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Hypertension: Not For Adults Only

Kids can have high blood pressure, too

Hypertension - or high blood pressure - is not just an adult condition. It is estimated between three to five percent of children suffer from the condition and those numbers appear to be rising. 'When you look at studies done in the 19705, the incidence of hypertension in school-age children was 1.2 percent,' says Anup Singh, MD, chief of Pediatric Nephrology at The Children's Hospital at Saint Peter's University Hospital. "When this same study was repeated again in the late 1990s in Texas, 7 percent of school-age children had elevated blood pressures."

The driving force is the rapid rise of obesity,' adds Dr. Singh. 'Obese children lend to eat more and thus have a higher salt intake particularly when they eat fast food. Higher salt intake raises blood pressure.' Also, fat cells produce substances and hormones that can raise blood pressure.

The consequences are the same as in adults. Left untreated, high blood pressure in children can lead to serious illness. "It can lead to the development of heart disease - such as the thickening of the heart muscle - and changes in the blood vessels of the eyes that may lead to vision changes,' says Dr. Singh.

Hypertension in children can be caused by a number of other factors. "Genetics does playa role in primary hypertension. When two parents are hypertensive, there is a 50 percent chance the child will develop it,' says Dr. Singh. High blood pressure also can be caused by underlying medical conditions. When a child develops hypertension before the age of 12, it is more likely the result of another medical condition such as kidney disease. Conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea - which is more common in obese children - and abnormal hormone levels can also cause 'secondary hypertension.'

It's not always easy to tell if your child has hypertension. In children as in adults, hypertension is often a ' silent" condition, showing no outward symptoms. Symptoms don't often manifest until complications develop, and this can take a long time according to Dr. Singh.

Symptoms to watch out for in children include:

  • Changes In vision
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Frequent dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Nosebleeds
  • Persistent headaches
  • Persistent shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the legs

Also as in adults, treatment does depend on the cause. Medication can be used to control hypertension with dosages adjusted for children. The most effective thing parents can do to ward off primary hypertension is to watch their children's diets in and outside the home and to keep them active, says Dr. Singh.

"In addition to checking the child's blood pressure, have your pediatrician check your child's BMI yearly,' says Dr. Singh. "Get them involved in sports and aerobic activities on a regular basis and have them eat well and snack healthy, too. Making lifesty1e changes and diet modification are the first and foremost treatment for hypertension."

The Division of Pediatric Nephrology at The Children's Hospital at Saint Peter's University Hospital can be reached by calling 732-565-5489. Looking for a pediatrician? Visit www.saintpetershcs.com/FindAPhysician. To learn more about The Children's Hospital at Saint Peter's, Visit www.saintpetershcs.com/spchlldrenshospital.