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High Blood Pressure in Children

Child getting blood pressure checked

Bad eating habits in childhood can cause early obesity and high cholesterol. More than one-fifth of youth in the United States aged 12-19 years have an abnormal cholesterol level. When Children are above the normal weight range they should have their cholesterol levels checked, particularly if there is a have a family history of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and certain chronic conditions like chronic kidney disease and congenital heart disease. These all increase the risk of developing hypertension.

What is high blood pressure?

To ensure continuous blood flow throughout the body, there should be sufficient pressure for it to circulate – that is called blood pressure. The heart pumps blood through the arteries and veins which contract and widen as needed to keep the blood flowing consistently.

If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), your blood pressure is too high for your blood vessels to handle. The blood pushes too hard on the veins and arteries, which can later be damage to the blood vessels, the heart, and other organs.

Pediatric Hypertension

Hypertension in children can be trickier than in adults. Although children and adults alike get blood pressure checks, diagnosing hypertension in children takes more than a simple blood pressure check. A child’s blood pressure numbers will additionally factor in their sex, and height, to determine normal versus high blood pressure ranges.

So, what can you do if your child is at risk of getting hypertension?

Understand what cholesterol is and high blood pressure and know the early signs. We all love chubby cheeks, but we should not overlook the dangers that obesity brings just because we find chubby “cute”. Learn about healthy portion sizes and ways to inspire your children to make healthy choices.

A child is at risk of developing high blood pressure if he or she is:

  • overweight
  • have poor eating habits
  • have a family history of hypertension and high cholesterol
  • overeating salty food
  • have a low level of physical activity

Have routine checkups for your child. To avoid the risks mentioned above, getting regular well-child checkups that include blood pressure a check is essential. This will help you monitor your child’s health and catch early signs of obesity or high cholesterol when it is easier to change habits or treat.

Make healthy lifestyle choices. Whether you have a family history of high blood pressure or not, your family must practice healthy eating habits and get sufficient exercise. By doing so, you are creating healthy habits for everyone in your family.

When do I take my child to the doctor?

Usually, hypertension does not show any signs or symptoms. However, there are possibilities for a hypertensive crisis to occur. Hypertensive crisis is when the blood pressure is exceptionally high. When it happens, the blood vessels could get damaged and may swell and leak fluid or blood and may result in a stroke.

These signs indicate an emergency:

  • severe chest pain
  • severe headache that comes with blurry vision and confusion
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shortness of breath
  • severe anxiety
  • seizures
  • unresponsiveness

If you notice these signs on someone with hypertension or high blood pressure, immediately call for an ambulance. Treatment for a hypertensive crisis may include hospitalization and several medications.

Complications 

Children with high blood pressure may continue to have it in adulthood unless the child undergoes treatment. If your child continues to have high blood pressure in adulthood, he or she can be at risk for:

  • kidney disease
  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • heart failure

Treatment

The best treatment is always prevention and healthy habits, but if your child is diagnosed with high blood pressure, your pediatrician will initially recommend more heart-healthy meals and exercise.

When lifestyle changes do not show any improvement to your child’s condition, your doctor may recommend hypertensive medications.

The duration of the treatment will depend on your child’s development and what caused high blood pressure. Diet and exercise can control high blood pressure. However, if other primary diseases cause your child’s condition, treatment may take much longer.

Whether your child is diagnosed with hypertension or not, he or she must get enough exercise-about 30-60 minutes each day. It doesn’t have to be one whole hour of exercise straight; it could be divided into thirds, which can serve as breaks for your child from sitting too long in front of the TV or just being sedentary. You can find short exercise routines to motivate your child  like this one: 9-minute Exercise For Kids or visit Alaska’s Play Everyday website for more ideas.

Image attribution: “checking blood pressure” by jencu is licensed by Flicker Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Curtis Harvie, DNP, FNP-BC, AHN-BC

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