You may think high blood pressure is a health burden only for adults. But it can strike children, too, especially if they are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, the condition may not always be recognized or treated in the young, a recent study found. If you are a parent, you can take steps to protect your child from this health problem.
High blood pressure—or hypertension—typically has no symptoms. So testing is often the only way to detect it. In adults, a healthy blood pressure reading is below 120/80 mmHg. But in children, that healthy level can be much lower. And it can vary a lot, depending on a child’s age, sex, and height. For instance, an older boy will tend to have higher normal levels than compared with a younger girl.
That difference may make it hard to diagnose high blood pressure in children. In the journal Pediatrics, researchers looked at this problem. They analyzed the health records of nearly 400,000 children ages 3 to 18. Around 12,000 children had higher than normal blood pressure levels. But only about 1 in 5 of them were diagnosed with high blood pressure, based on current screening guidelines.
From their analysis, researchers also found that an additional 38,000 children had prehypertension. That means their levels were slightly above normal, putting them at high risk for high blood pressure. But only 1 in 10 were actually diagnosed with prehypertension. Those most likely to be diagnosed and treated for problems with their blood pressure were older male children and those who were overweight or obese. Healthcare providers may more easily recognize high blood pressure in these groups.
Experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children be regularly screened for high blood pressure. If 3 or more of those readings are above what’s considered normal for your child, he or she may need more testing. Lifestyle changes may be all that’s needed to lower your child’s blood pressure. But treatment can include medicine, too.
High blood pressure can put your child at risk for many health problems in the future. These include kidney disease and heart disease. Fortunately, you can do a lot to help keep your child’s blood pressure in a normal range. Here’s how:
Watch your child’s weight. More and more children are developing high blood pressure. The main culprit is childhood obesity. Carrying too much weight can raise blood pressure levels.
Cut back on salt (sodium). Packaged or processed foods tend to be high in salt. Limit how much your child has of these top sodium sources: breads, cheeses, deli meats, pizza, chips, crackers, and soups. Checking the Nutrition Facts Label can help you spot foods with too much sodium.
Cook more meals at home. You can then better control how much salt and fat are in the foods your family eats. Focus on healthy fare, such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, and lots of fruits and vegetables.
Get your child moving. Plenty of physical activity will help your child lose weight or stay at a healthy weight.
Learn more about high blood pressure in children and adolescents.
American Heart Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
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