And because high blood pressure can lead to long-term health problems, it is important that it is diagnosed and treated.
Blood in our bodies exerts pressure against the walls of our arteries, and that pressure is recorded as two numbers separated by a slash.
The top number — systolic blood pressure — represents the highest pressure of the blood when the heart beats.
The bottom number — diastolic — is the lowest pressure of the blood between heart beats.
High blood pressure is defined as having a blood pressure reading higher than the 95th percentile for a child’s height, weight and gender.
Using those three categories, health-care professionals refer to charts that provide ranges for blood pressures.
Blood pressure readings are taken with a cuff on the arm starting when a child is 3. (Children with risk factors may be screened earlier).
If a high reading is evident, at least two more readings are obtained during the visit. Unless the reading average is exceptionally high, the child is brought back for another visit to have further readings taken before she is diagnosed with hypertension.
About 3% of children in the U.S. have high blood pressure.
The younger a child is, the more likely he is to have another illness that causes the hypertension.
Prematurity, and heart, blood vessel and kidney problems can all be factors.
In school-age children, obesity is the biggest risk factor. Sleep apnea, certain medications, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse can also be associated with hypertension.
Teenagers especially may have genetic (inherited) high blood pressure.
Although hypertension often has no symptoms, it can cause headaches, dizziness, visual changes, chest pain, heart palpitations, nosebleeds, nausea and vomiting.
Over time untreated hypertension can lead to kidney failure, hardening of the arteries, strokes, heart attacks and loss of vision.
Initial treatment for children starts with a heart-healthy diet (plenty of fruits and vegetables, lower salt content, etc.) and regular exercise. Sometimes medications for hypertension are needed.
Prevention of hypertension in childhood begins in infancy. Breastfeeding and supplementing with formulas containing polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with lower blood pressures later.
Keeping a healthy weight and exercising regularly are also important.