The percentage of kids with high blood pressure has been climbing for decades. About 3.5 percent of children and teens have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
High blood pressure doesn’t present symptoms in kids, and it can be difficult to diagnose. Height, age, sex and other factors can affect a young person’s blood pressure reading. The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with new screening guidelines to help pediatricians better identify kids with high blood pressure.
How will new screening guidelines help you identify more kids with high blood pressure?
The new guideline offers very clear and specific guidance on how to screen and diagnose children with elevated blood pressure. Children have their blood pressure taken at every well visit starting at 3 years old when they are seen at Akron Children’s Hospital’s primary care offices. The new guideline has updated charts to help providers identify elevated blood pressure based on age, height and gender. Using these updated charts and other diagnostic guidance listed in the guideline will help ensure all children who have elevated blood pressure get identified and appropriately treated.
How is high blood pressure diagnosed? In addition to arm cuff readings, are other tests necessary?
If a child has an elevated blood pressure at an office visit, follow-up blood pressure measurements will be obtained to confirm the diagnosis of elevated blood pressure. Providers will also perform a health history – inquiring about such things as perinatal events, nutrition, physical activity and family history – and perform a physical exam. Additional blood work and heart imaging may be done, especially if the child is referred to a specialist to help with diagnosis and treatment of hypertension.
Why is it important to catch high blood pressure early?
Treating elevated blood pressure early in children will help to keep hearts healthy and ensure prolonged life. Research has shown high blood pressure in youth causes damage to the cardiovascular system and vascular aging. It has also been shown that children with persistent high blood pressure are more likely to have high blood pressure as adults.
Are most cases caused by obesity?
Obesity has been shown to be highly correlated with high blood pressure in children in many studies. As the number of children with obesity has increased over the last decades, pediatric providers working in primary care have also seen an increase in childhood high blood pressure. Other conditions are known to cause hypertension – such as sleep disorders, chronic kidney conditions and complications of prematurity. But obesity is most likely the reason for increased levels of pediatric hypertension we are seeing.
When obesity is the cause, are lifestyle changes – losing weight and exercising – usually the best medicine?
If your child is diagnosed with elevated blood pressure, education on lifestyle changes is recommended by the guideline as the first step in treatment. Your primary healthcare provider will begin this process and make appropriate referrals, if needed, to the team of healthcare experts at Akron Children’s Hospital. That may include nutrition, nephrology, cardiology or the weight management clinic. The lifestyle changes shared by your provider will include information on healthy food choices, sodium reduction, screen time recommendations and physical activity guidance for your child.