Despite popular belief, teens, children and even babies can have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. It's not just a disease for the middle-aged and elderly. As with adults, early diagnosis and treatment can reduce or prevent the harmful consequences of this disease.
High blood pressure in children younger than 10 years old is usually caused by another medical condition. High blood pressure in children can also develop for the same reasons it does in adults — being overweight, eating a poor diet and not exercising.
Lifestyle changes, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising more, can help reduce high blood pressure in children. But, for some children, medications may be necessary.
Blood pressures vary depending on the age of your child, as well as according to height and weight, and the gender of your child. Generally, blood pressure is low in infancy, and rises slowly as children age. Boys' blood pressures are slightly higher than girls' are, and taller people generally have higher blood pressures than short people do.
For example, an infant may have a quite normal blood pressure of 80/45 mm Hg, while that value in an adult is considered low. A teenager may have an acceptable blood pressure of 110/70 mm Hg, but that value would be of concern in a toddler.Your child's doctor can tell you what's right for your child, because "normal" is a complicated calculation based on these factors:
- illnesses. The kidneys play an important role in regulating blood pressure, and often have diminished ability to perform this vital task when they are diseased. A congenital (present at birth) heart defect called coarctation of the aorta may also cause high blood pressure readings. Head injury may raise the pressure inside the brain, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood pressure normally.
- use of prescription or illegal recreational drugs (such as steroids taken to decrease inflammation, oral contraceptives, or cocaine)
- immobility (such as with a chronic illness)
- severe pain (such as with cancer or burns)
Children and teens should also be taught the dangers of tobacco use and protected from secondhand smoke. While cigarettes aren't directly related to high blood pressure, they do cause a number of health risks. Parents should set a good example by not smoking and educating their children about the hazards of smoking.
The doctor may also prescribe medication if an appropriate diet and regular physical activity don't bring the high blood pressure under control.
Give your kids the best possible start by helping them develop heart-healthy habits early.
Age, body size and the degree of sexual maturation determine blood pressure levels in adolescence. Heavier and more sexually mature teenagers tend to have higher blood pressure.
According to research, teenagers who are obese and have high blood pressure may develop thicker arteries by age 30. Fatty buildups in artery walls can lead to a variety of health problems including heart disease and stroke. To help manage children's health risks, parents should partner with the family doctor to:
- Help boys and girls manage their own weight and make healthy choices as adolescents
- Discover ways to support and build new habits if the child is already overweight