Hypertension or high blood pressure used to be an adult disease; however, it has steadily increased in prevalence among children. The more common childhood obesity becomes, the more children will develop high blood pressure. Hypertension is a significant risk factor in coronary artery disease. Understanding the ramifications of having high blood pressure as a child and what can be done to prevent it will help the child grow into a healthier adult.
Approximately 3 percent of the world’s children have higher-than-average blood pressure, according to KidsHealth.com. Hypertensive babies usually have a medical condition such as heart or kidney problems. Babies born prematurely are also at risk for hypertension at birth. Hypertensive older children and teenagers often develop the condition due to obesity and lack of physical activity.
Childhood hypertension presents the same hazards as adult hypertension. A child with high blood pressure risks going into adulthood with heart issues, kidney problems and a risk of stroke. High blood pressure can adversely impact vision and cause hardening of the arteries.
Symptoms of childhood hypertension include dizziness, headaches and shortness of breath. Sometimes, no symptoms are present, and the condition is discovered during a routine doctor visit. Most pediatricians do not diagnose hypertension until three consecutive readings are high. This is because children are usually nervous during the first doctor visit. The three readings are averaged to get a blood pressure number and from that a hypertension diagnosis can be made. An all-day blood pressure cuff can be ordered to get a more accurate picture of the child’s blood pressure while he is at home, at school or out playing.
A majority of pediatricians will not prescribe blood pressure medication for a child. Instead, they will recommend a weight loss program and suggest physical activities to get the child moving, such as organized sports. If the natural attempts to reduce blood pressure through weight loss and exercise don’t work, the doctor may prescribe medication.
The heart, kidney and diabetes risks for hypertensive children do not occur until adulthood, but in some cases, health issues can begin in childhood. Hypertensive children require intensive physician monitoring so that any changes can be dealt with as soon as they occur.