Kids and High Blood Pressure

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on May 8, 2019

Quick Facts

  • High blood pressure is now one of the top five chronic childhood diseases.
  • Healthy habits are the best way to lower blood pressure for life. 
  • Free screenings are available throughout our region in May and June.

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Adults aren’t the only ones who get high blood pressure. Many kids suffer from it too.

The problem has been growing among children and teenagers for several decades, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). About 3.5 percent of children and adolescents now have high blood pressure versus 1 to 2 percent in the past, the group said.

Unfortunately, high blood pressure is now ranked as one of the top five chronic diseases in children. If left untreated over time, it can damage organs like the heart, kidneys or brain.

It is also referred to as a silent killer, since it often goes undiagnosed unless a doctor checks for it.

Why has the incidence been growing?

“It has been increasing along with the problem of obesity in children,” said Kelly Henchel, M.D., chief of Carilion Children’s General Pediatrics Clinic.

It’s also more common in boys. In children up to age 18, it is estimated that 15 to 19 percent of boys suffer from high blood pressure, versus seven to 12 percent of girls.

“Unfortunately, children who have high blood pressure go on to become adults who have high blood pressure,” Dr. Henchel said.

To address the problem, the AAP has developed a set of guidelines. “Basically, the AAP recommends a healthy lifestyle to control obesity and reduce the risk of elevated blood pressure,” noted Dr. Henchel.

It recommends that children up to 18:

  • Drink no sweetened beverages
  • Get one hour of physical activity every day
  • Spend no more than two hours a day on non-academic screen time
  • Eat five different fruits and vegetables daily

Dr. Henchel tells her young patients about the recommendations as well as their families.

“Some of the kids remember and remind their parents, ‘I’m not supposed to have any sweetened beverages,’ ’’ she said. “Or they’ll ask, ‘Where are my five fruits and vegetables?’ ”

Also, for years doctors diagnosed high blood pressure in children according to charts recommending normal blood pressure by age.

“The guidelines include simpler screening tools,” Dr. Henchel said.

They also provide charts based only on normal-weight children that recommend lower blood pressure readings than in the past.

Although there are treatments available for high blood pressure, parents everywhere are urged to help their kids develop healthy habits. After all, that is the best form of prevention for high blood pressure and many other diseases.

What could be more important?

Visit your child's pediatrician or your family's primary care provider if you have concerns about your child's health.