High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition that can affect anyone, including children.
Research shows that an estimated 2-5% of children suffer from hypertension, which can lead to serious health problems in adulthood.
A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association sheds light on what leads to high blood pressure in children and adolescents and highlights clinical and public health implications for healthcare professionals, researchers, and the public.
The statement reports that primary hypertension, which indicates that it is not due to an underlying medical condition, is now the most common type of high blood pressure in kids, especially in adolescents.
Children with high blood pressure levels tend to maintain high blood pressure into adulthood, which is why diagnosing and appropriately addressing high blood pressure in youth is imperative to ensure improved lifetime health as early as possible.
Blood pressure is recorded using two numbers: systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure blood exerts against the artery walls when the heart beats, and diastolic blood pressure, which is the pressure blood exerts against the artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.
High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood flowing through the blood vessels is consistently too high.
Damage from high blood pressure may lead to heart disease, potentially leading to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, peripheral artery disease, vision loss, angina (chest pain), and more.
While some factors that may contribute to high blood pressure in children, such as genetics, low birth weight, and even environmental exposures, are not modifiable, some significant risk factors can be modified to improve blood pressure levels.
Obesity, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition are all major contributors to high blood pressure in children.
A recent meta-analysis of 18 studies found that systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels increased with every additional gram of daily sodium intake, which is concerning because dietary sodium intake in the U.S. among children is above recommended nutritional guidelines.
Therefore, promoting healthy lifestyles in children is essential, including eating healthy food, encouraging physical activity that leads to improved physical fitness and healthy sleep, and avoiding the development of obesity.
Regular blood pressure monitoring by a health care clinician is also essential so that if high blood pressure is present, it can be quickly detected and addressed.
Recognizing high blood pressure in children and adolescents who are otherwise healthy and without symptoms may be challenging.
Healthcare professionals should be trained on the specific techniques to measure pediatric blood pressure more accurately, and if levels are elevated, the child’s blood pressure should be checked on at least three different days using appropriate measurement techniques, as outlined in the scientific statement.
When high blood pressure is diagnosed in youth, treatment may include dietary changes, increased physical activity, a reduction in screen time (television or other digital devices), and in some cases medication.
However, studies on medication recommendations for high blood pressure in youth are somewhat lacking.
There is only one long-term randomized clinical trial that examined high blood pressure medication in children, and it was specifically in children with chronic kidney disease.
Since primary hypertension is now known to be the main type of high blood pressure in youth, trials are needed focusing on medications for children with high blood pressure not related to another medical cause.
The researchers note that public health efforts to study and improve high blood pressure in children may be difficult for numerous reasons.
But it may be useful to gather information from pediatric databases to calculate and monitor trends in blood pressure in children relative to population-based variations in obesity, physical activity, nutrition, unmet social needs, and adverse childhood experiences.
Additionally, broader interventions, such as lowering sodium content in food in the U.S. and providing healthier food choices in schools, may help improve cardiovascular health, particularly during childhood.
If you care about blood pressure, please read studies about a key contributor to high blood pressure, and these unhealthy habits could increase high blood pressure risk
For more information about blood pressure, please see recent studies that early time-restricted eating could help improve blood pressure, and results showing plant-based foods could benefit people with high blood pressure.
The study was published in Hypertension.
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