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Need to Know: High Blood Pressure in Children
Simple ways to protect and raise a healthy heart.
"High blood pressure in kids? That’s what my grandmother has!"
Nearly two out of three American adults have unhealthy blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure (HBP), cuts off nearly five years from an average person’s life. It is more common beyond middle age. Hence, what comes to mind when discussing HBP are adults challenged to maintain a healthy lifestyle: regular exercise, a healthy diet, and weight control—simple routines that help prevent HBP.
However, HBP can start rather early. Although it is difficult to imagine, children and adolescents are also at risk of HBP, and HBP at a young age may be a precursor to hypertension in adults. As stated in a recent study* involving a group of children and adolescents aged three to 18 years, HBP in children and adolescents exceeds 3 percent, or nearly one in every 30 children.
The risk in children is serious enough that the 2004 U.S. guidelines from the American Society of Hypertension recommended BP screening for children to start at age 3.
Surprisingly, HBP rarely causes any symptoms. However, if left unrecognized and untreated over the years, it can be a serious condition and can lead to heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.
Despite the lack of symptoms, there are certain conditions that increase the chance of your child having or developing HBP:
* abnormal amounts of cholesterol in the blood
* family history of heart attack before age 55
* types 1 and 2 diabetes
* chronic kidney disease
Blood Pressure Screening in Children
Because of the absence or lack of symptoms HBP can be easily overlooked, more so in children. You, as a parent, should take the initiative when you next take your child to the clinic. Have your child routinely checked up for HBP. Every clinic and most pharmacies can do this.
For an accurate blood pressure measurement, it is important that your child is at rest or relaxed at the time of the BP checkup. If he or she tends to be stressed around doctors or in clinics, it would be better to have the BP reading at school or at home.
Tipping the Balance in Your Child’s Favor
Early identification of HBP in children means early treatment. Managing HBP in young people can keep them healthy now and healthier as they grow up.
The following are measures you should take to prevent HBP in your children or to ensure its early detection and treatment.
* Find out if your family has a history of hypertension.
If the answer is "yes," there is a high possibility that you and your children will develop HBP in the future. Your goal is to delay or prevent this as long as possible. As a preventive measure, start them off with good habits such as keeping to a healthy diet and doing regular exercise. Be sure to consult a physician.
* Ensure that your kids consume less calories, fats, and salt.
A diet meant to control blood pressure is one low in calories, fats, and salt. Eat with your kids at home so you can better monitor their intake. Encourage your children to eat more fruits and green vegetables. Bake, broil, or steam some fish. If your kids like meat, choose lean cuts and cook chicken without the skin. Also, replace salt with fresh herbs.
* Promote exercise in your children as early as possible.
As childhood HBP is closely linked to obesity and lack of exercise, you must help keep your children physically active. Slip appropriate physical activities into your children’s daily routine. Be creative and vary the activities so they will have fun and develop a positive attitude toward exercise. You can also encourage your older children to participate in sports.
* Ask about HBP.
Ask as many questions as possible. The best way to help your children fight HBP is to have a clear understanding of the condition. Ask your doctor to clarify technical terms, to speak in a language that you can understand, to explain natural approaches and medications to treat HBP, and to update you on recent medical information.
Take these simple steps to reduce your child’s risk of having hypertension. Have your child’s blood pressure monitored regularly and choose prevention as an approach to keep your kid heart-healthy.
*(Falkner B., 2010, "Hypertension in children and adolescents: Epidemiology and natural history," Pediatr. Nephrol. 25(7): 1219–1224, Epub 2009 May 7)
Dr. James A. Hellinger, MD is an attending physician and clinical faculty at Tufts Medical Center. To learn more about hypertension, visit www.focusappsstore.com, a website featuring revolutionary animated mobile apps on medical information/education.
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