High blood pressure or hypertension means that your heart is pumping blood against the walls of your arteries at an abnormally higher pressure than normal, putting stress on them. It is a disease that had plagued mostly the older age group, […]
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5 Myths about High Blood Pressure in Children

by Jill Taylor on March 26, 2014

in Medical Information

pediHigh blood pressure or hypertension means that your heart is pumping blood against the walls of your arteries at an abnormally higher pressure than normal, putting stress on them. It is a disease that had plagued mostly the older age group, but is now taking its toll on children and adolescents at an increasing rate.

Judith Lazol, MD, a pediatric cardiologist with McLane Children’s Scott & White, treats children dealing with high blood pressure and specializes in congenital heart disease.

“Usually hypertension presents with no signs and symptoms,” says Dr. Lazol. “A lot of people are unaware that they have high blood pressure, but during all that time some damage may have already been done in some parts of the body, like the heart, blood vessels and kidneys.

It’s important to know the facts about high blood pressure in children and dispel some misconceptions, which we may have entertained.

Five Myths about High Blood Pressure in Children

1. “Hypertension is an adult disease with no real relevance to children.” 

Not true.

Dr. Lazol explains a total of 3 to 5 percent of children have hypertension, much higher than those diagnosed with autism or epilepsy.

It is important to be aware of your child’s blood pressure, as it is very relevant to your child’s heath.

“Your child’s blood pressure should be checked as part of routine doctor’s appointment, starting at age three,” says Dr. Lazol. “Parents should take their children for their annual check-ups. It is important not to miss these appointments especially if your child is obese or if there is family history of hypertension.”

 2. “Pediatric hypertension is mostly attributed to secondary causes.” 

Not true.

We classify hypertension into two types:

  1. Essential or primary, wherein no underlying medical condition that can be pin-pointed to cause the hypertension.
  2. Secondary, where there is an underlying disease causing the increase of blood pressure.

Hypertension secondary to a child’s medical problems was once thought of as the more common cause of high blood pressure in children. With the growing number of children with obesity, as a result of changing lifestyle and dietary patterns, primary or essential hypertension is becoming the more prevalent form of hypertension in children.

Primary hypertension occurs on its own without underlying condition and is more common in adolescents.

  • Risk factors for primary hypertension:
    • Overweight/obesity
    • African-American ethnicity
    • Premature birth, or low birth weight
    • Boys more than girls
    • Unhealthy lifestyle habits (lack of physical activity, caffeine and sodium intake, alcohol and smoking for adults)
    • Stress

Hypertension in these cases may resolve with changes in lifestyle, habits and exercise.

  • Risk factors for secondary hypertension:
    • Kidney disease
    • Problems affecting the kidneys such as lupus or diabetes
    • Narrowing of the aorta or coarctation
    • Hyperthyroidism
    • Unsupervised intake of prescription drugs like steroids or others

In these cases, once doctors and specialists like Dr. Lazol treat the underlying cause, the child’s high blood pressure may resolve.

3. “Childhood blood pressure is unrelated to adult hypertension.”

Not true.

Multiple studies have demonstrated the tracking of hypertension from a young age to adulthood.

Dr. Lazol recommends healthy family practices to help reduce the odds of your children developing hypertension.

Dr. Lazol suggests implementing these healthy habits:

  • Diets of children should include plenty of fruits, vegetable, lean meat, poultry, fish and low fat dairy products, in reasonably sized servings.
  • Children must drink lots of water and limit taking sweetened beverages.
  • Regular active exercise (at least one hour a day)
  • Limit screen time in front of the TV and computer to two hours a day at most.
  • A healthy weight must always be kept in mind.
  • Implement a smoke-free environment and alcohol temperance.
  • Help your child cope with stress and problems in a positive way.
  • Attend doctor visits and if your child is on medication, make sure they comply with the doctor’s instructions and follow-up as advised.

“Leading a healthy lifestyle in the family plays a very important role in avoiding onset or reducing incidence of hypertension,” says Dr. Lazol.

 4. “Children can have hypertension but it doesn’t damage anything until adulthood.”

Not true.

Dr. Lazol cites studies that have shown up to 30 percent of children already have evidence of cardio-vascular injury, by the time they were diagnosed with hypertension.

These injuries to the heart include thickening of the heart muscle, called left ventricular hypertrophy, so it’s important that children should be evaluated as early as possible.

For children with hypertension, their arteries may become narrowed and this limits blood flow especially to the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes. When the blood flow is limited, it can also cause heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure or loss of vision.

5. “The overall impact of hypertension on children is small.” 

“Logistical studies show that the frequency of pediatric hypertension hospitalization in the U.S. over a 10-year period from 1997 to 2006 has doubled,” says Dr. Lazol. “The charges from the inpatient care of hypertensive children also increased to an estimated $3.1 billion over that same period.”

She advises that, “It is vital to do all that we can to keep our children healthy, and avoid the serious risks of this debilitating ailment.“

At your child’s next check-up be sure to ask about your child’s blood pressure and discuss your concerns with your pediatrician.

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