High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects 10 to 15 percent of the school-age population, according to several studies. Even babies can have high blood pressure.
High blood pressure in children can be caused by other diseases, such as diseases of the heart or kidney. (This is referred to as “secondary hypertension.”) Or, it can occur without any other known cause (This is called “primary” or “essential” hypertension).
Many children seem to inherit a tendency for high blood pressure from one or both parents. In fact, children whose parents have high blood pressure are at greater risk for developing it – and they should be monitored.
High blood pressure often has no symptoms. A blood pressure reading taken by a doctor may provide the first indication of the condition.
Typically, a high blood pressure reading on three separate occasions will prompt the child’s doctor to order an evaluation process. This process, which may include a physical examination, blood and urine analysis and non-invasive cardiac testing, can help identify causes of high blood pressure. These causes may be corrected surgically or with medications.
In some children, a scan of the kidneys and an ultrasound are performed to assess kidney and endocrine (glandular) function.
Progression and Possible Complications
High blood pressure in children can lead to heart abnormalities. Enlargement of the heart’s lower left chamber, a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy, can be detected in 80 percent of children and young adult patients who have high blood pressure.
Once the doctor has documented high blood pressure and an evaluation has determined that it is not a curable form, children and young adult patients are treated without blood pressure drugs, if possible.
The mild high blood pressure seen in most young patients can be controlled and even corrected through weight loss, reduction of salt intake and exercise training. These approaches are tailored to suit the needs of each patient.