High blood pressure in children
High blood pressure is a condition that commonly affects adults, but it can also affect children.
However, because few children have high blood pressure, there is no routine screening of children's blood pressure.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, may not cause any symptoms, but it can cause heart and circulation problems over time.
Where high blood pressure does cause symptoms in a child, these may include headache, neurological problems, nose bleeds, heart failure and facial palsy.
Blood pressure is sometimes harder to measure in a child, as electronic monitors are often set up for adults.
Causes of high blood pressure in children include kidney problems.
What is high blood pressure in children?
Blood pressure is the force of blood as it flows through the body's blood vessels. Under normal conditions, the heart pumps blood through the body’s entire circulatory system. The blood vessels widen and contract as needed to keep blood flowing well. However in a person with hypertension the blood pushes too hard against the blood vessels. This pressure can damage the blood vessels, the heart and other organs.
It's easy for adults to tell if they have high blood pressure simply by having their blood pressure measured and comparing the results to recommended levels. Children have the same tests, but interpreting the numbers is trickier. Your GP will use charts based on your child's sex, height and blood pressure numbers to determine whether or not your child has high blood pressure.
Obesity is the number one risk factor for high blood pressure in children
Risk factors for high blood pressure in children include obesity and a family history of high blood pressure. Other risk factors may include medical problems such as sleep apnoea or other sleep disorders.
Obesity is considered the primary risk for high blood pressure in children. Not only does being obese put your child at risk of high blood pressure, but also for a range of other health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
What causes obesity?
Sometimes obesity can be linked to other health problems. However, in most cases obesity is due to the combination of two factors:
- Too much food. Many children eat more food than their bodies require. Obesity can also result when a child's diet is full of unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks. For that reason it is important to keep an eye on the quality as well as the quantity of the food your child eats.
- Too little activity. Many children do not exercise enough and spend hours every day engaged in sedentary activities such as watching television or playing video games.
Treating high blood pressure in children
Researchers are still trying to determine the most effective way to treat high blood pressure in children. In general treating high blood pressure in children is not that different from treating high blood pressure in adults. If your child has high blood pressure, work closely with your child's consultant to find which treatment plan will work best for your child. Here are some general guidelines for treating high blood pressure in children:
- Change your child’s diet. Plan your child’s meals so that there is less fat and more fresh fruits, vegetables and wholegrain foods. Limiting salt intake can also help lower your child's blood pressure. A dietician can help you and your child find ways to meet these goals without giving up favourite foods or great flavour.
- Watch your child's weight. Being overweight increases the risk of developing high blood pressure. Following an eating plan and getting regular exercise can help your child lose weight. Ask your GP to help set goals for losing weight.
- Your GP can also refer your child to other health care professionals for assistance in setting up a weight-loss plan.
- Avoid tobacco smoke. Tobacco smoke can make blood pressure rise, and it can also directly damage your child's heart and blood vessels. Protect your child from tobacco smoke - even second-hand smoke.
- Medication. If your child's blood pressure is severe or doesn't respond to lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe certain drugs. It may take a while to find a combination of drugs that works best to control hypertension with the least side effects. Drugs used to treat hypertension include:
- Diureticsto reduce the amount of fluid in the blood by helping the body rid itself of extra sodium.
- ACE inhibitors, alpha-blockers and calcium-channel blockers help keep the blood vessels from tightening up.
- Beta-blockers prevent the body from making the hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline is a stress hormone. It makes your child's heart beat harder and faster. It also makes blood vessels tighten. All of this makes blood pressure higher. Beta-blockers are less often used nowadays to treat high blood pressure.