Can Your Child Have High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is a condition that is commonly associated with adults. But can this medical condition affect young children? Read on to know more

By Ashwin Dewan

Can Your Child Have High Blood Pressure?

Archita's son Aryan often complained of a feeling of uneasiness and headache. Archita dismissed these symptoms as overexertion from playing long hours. However, one day, on a weekend, when he was playing after lunch, Aryan complained of dizziness again and swooned. Archita rushed him to the doctor, and to her dismay, found out that her son had high blood pressure.

Yes, you read it right! High blood pressure among children has become a reality today. The Study of Prevalence of Hypertension in School Children by Dr Banker Chirag A, published in MedIndia, reports that of 983 students examined in Ahmedabad, high blood pressure was found in 10.71 per cent boys and 5.26 per cent girls aged 12 years.

Are you afraid you may be caught unawares like Archita? Are you wondering why children are falling prey to this dreaded disease? This article looks at the causes, symptoms and treatment of high blood pressure in children.

Types of hypertension

Blood pressure is the force with which blood flows through the vessels of the body. Normally, the heart pumps blood to all parts of the body through these vessels. In case of high blood pressure, the blood pushes too hard against the vessels and may cause damage to the heart and other organs.

In children below the age of 10, the condition is often known as secondary hypertension. The high blood pressure that adolescents and children over 10 years of age have is known as primary hypertension. While secondary hypertension has a cause – often a disease or abnormality in the body such as kidney disease – healthline says that primary hypertension does not have a known secondary cause.

Conditions like premature birth, low birth weight, congenital heart disease and certain problems of the kidney can increase the risk of high blood pressure during infancy.

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Causes of high blood pressure in children

Like with adults, there is no single cause for high blood pressure in children. Genes may play a role in causing primary hypertension although the child's lifestyle also plays an equal part. The risk factors that cause high blood pressure in children are:

• Excessive intake of salty foods like chips

• Reduced intake of fruits and vegetables

• Low activity levels

• Obesity

Symptoms of high blood pressure in children

Children with high blood pressure do not exhibit any obvious symptoms. A child may show symptoms like palpitation, headache, breathing problems and a general feeling of being unwell. Unless your child suffers from a chronic health problem, there is no need to visit the doctor to check for high blood pressure.

However, Dr Chugh says that it is advisable for parents to take their child for a routine check-up once every year. Mayo Clinic says you should take your child to the doctor for routine blood pressure check-ups starting at the age of 3.

Diagnosing high blood pressure in children

According to Dr Chugh, you cannot conclude that a child is diagnosed with high blood pressure after one reading. It usually takes two to three readings to diagnose high blood pressure correctly. The reading should be conducted in a relaxed atmosphere.

Usually, the test for high blood pressure is a painless one. It is done with the help of a blood pressure measuring device. Normal blood pressure readings in children often vary depending on the age, sex and even, height of the child. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg in adults and it is no different in children. In the case of children, blood pressure reading is calculated based on the child's age.

When a child is diagnosed with high blood pressure, the doctor may suggest the following tests to assess the functioning of the kidney or other organs: 

1) Blood tests

2) Urine tests

3) Echocardiogram

4) Ultrasound of the kidneys

Course of the treatment

Medication
If your child is diagnosed with high blood pressure or hypertension, the doctor will suggest certain changes in her lifestyle such as a healthy diet and structured exercise. The medicines given to children may differ from those given to adults.

Diet and exercise pattern

Foods with excess salt such as chips and processed foods should be completely avoided. Make exercise and yoga a part of your family’s routine so that you act as a role model for your child. Do not have exceedingly high expectations of your child and teach her to look at failure as a stepping stone to progress because reduced stress goes a long way in preventing high blood pressure.

Parent tips

Dr Chugh lists a few things that parents must do during a visit to the doctor:

  • Write down the child’s symptoms 
  • Make a list of the medications she is taking to share with the doctor
  • Remember to discuss any family history of high blood pressure with the doctor

High blood pressure in children should not be taken lightly. It can result in serious, long-term health effects like heart disease, kidney disease or stroke. Encourage your child to follow healthy lifestyle habits and she will keep high blood pressure at bay.

With inputs from Dr Krishnan Chugh, Director and HOD, Paediatrics and PICH, Fortis Memorial Research Institute

Read more about treating high blood pressure in children in the ClipBook below.