Health & Medicine

Teens, kids can suffer from high blood pressure

Dr. Eidson, Baptist Health
Dr. Eidson, Baptist Health Herald-Leader

Consider the health of your child. Yes, she's gotten all her vaccinations; no, he doesn't eat McDonalds every meal. However recent estimates show 30 percent of adolescents are overweight. You may think this will only lead to health issues in adulthood, but around 30 percent of overweight children already have detectable high blood pressure.

High blood pressure as a child commonly leads to hypertension as an adult. Uncontrolled adult hypertension is the leading cause of premature death worldwide. Even more frightening — studies find that more than one-third of adolescents with mild uncontrolled hypertension already have left ventricular hypertrophy — enlargement of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure.

Pediatric hypertension is difficult to recognize for parents; we think of blood pressures higher than 140/90 as abnormal. Yet in an average-sized 11-year-old girl, a blood pressure of 126/84 is so high that medications would have to be considered.

At every doctor's visit, your child's blood pressure should be checked, in both arms during yearly physicals. This reading will be compared against a table of normal values based upon a child's height. If the blood pressure is elevated, this will have to be confirmed at follow-up visits or with monitoring at home.

A diagnosis of pre-hypertension or hypertension in a child will lead to a battery of tests including labwork on urine and blood samples as well as a kidney ultrasound and a heart echocardiogram. These studies look for a possible cause of the high blood pressure such as kidney disease or problems with the aorta. However, family physicians and pediatricians are finding that after an exhaustive workup the cause is often obesity and inactivity.

Once your child is diagnosed with hypertension, your child's doctor will likely recommend a trial period of diet and exercise. Many times, a modest reduction in BMI (a measurement of the child's height and weight) will reduce the blood pressure into the normal range. However, medication is occasionally necessary.

During your holiday breaks, after presents are opened and leftovers are eaten, help your child set health goals for 2015. Children and adolescents should be getting 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity almost every day. Make that a requirement before they sit on the couch with their new games. Help them learn to control portions and choose healthier options for mealtimes. Make healthy choices now and avoid a scary diagnosis for your child tomorrow.