Hypertension in Children: What You Should Know

Hypertension in children is more common these days than ever before. Here's what you need to know to help keep your kids healthy

Hypertension in children, also referred to as pediatric hypertension, is a bit different from the adult version of the condition -- but it's just as dangerous. As many as 2-5% of American children meet the criteria for high blood pressure, mostly due to the creeping childhood obesity epidemic.

In fact, at least 15-30% of obese children have hypertension, which is bad enough. What's worse is that pediatric hypertension is probably under-diagnosed, because it's hard to identify and patients often don't show the standard symptoms that make it so obvious in adults.

A Closer Look

Kids get high blood pressure for the same reasons grown-ups do: genetic predisposition, poor diet, and not exercising enough. (Thank you, TV and video games). That's simple enough to understand.

Unfortunately, it's often difficult to pinpoint hypertension in a child, because the blood pressure readings that the experts consider high can vary by age, height, and even gender. Children have this annoying tendency to grow, and that skews the target readings as their bodies go through those inevitable changes.

Here's an interesting chart to peruse to help you understand the problem. The 95th percentile for BP defines hypertension.

As you can see, high blood pressure readings can be significantly lower for children, even up to the age of 17, than they are for mature adults. As a reminder, anything above 140/90 is hypertensive in adults. Boys, especially tall boys, tend to have higher BP levels than girls, at least past age 4.

Symptoms of Childhood Hypertension

Standard high blood pressure symptoms are actually quite rare in children, though an affected child may suffer from headaches. In cases of severe hypertension, or in cases where there's a dangerous underlying cause of the BP spike (such as renal damage) the following symptoms may also present:

-Mental confusion
-Blurred vision
-Shortness of breath
-Chest pain
-Seizures
-Vomiting

Treating Childhood Hypertension

By and large, the treatment for high blood pressure in children is similar to that for adults, though medication is less likely to be necessary except in extreme cases. Basically, it all boils down to lifestyle changes: more exercise and a more heart-healthy diet often take care of the problem.

In kids younger than 10, the cause is more likely to be some underlying condition such as congenital heart or kidney disease, or peri-natal issues like premature birth or low birth weight. In those situations, hypertension in children may in fact require treatment with appropriate medications, as well as lifestyle adjustments.

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