It's not just adults, children are also dealing with hypertension. On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics published new guidelines identifying and treating high blood pressure in young kids and adolescents.
They include new blood pressure tables based on normal-weight children.
“In 2004, when we did this, we used unhealthy children with unhealthy weight, their blood pressures, and children with healthy weight, their blood pressures, and we determined normative data for all of those children,” said Dr. Carissa Baker-Smith, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.
Baker-Smith, a lead author of the guidelines, said using all children to determine blood pressure tables, including those with unhealthy weights, skewed the numbers. Using the new tables, doctors may now interpret their patient’s health differently.
“They may actually have more children in their practice who have abnormal blood pressure,” Baker-Smith said.
Abnormal blood pressure or hypertension in children is a concern.
It's estimated 3.5% of all children and teens in the United States have hypertension and nearly 25% of youth with unhealthy weight experience high blood pressure, according to the guidelines. If left untreated, experts say it can cause heart and kidney damage.
“When there's hypertension it's like a stress on the heart. The heart pumps blood out to the blood vessels. If there is high pressure within those vessels in the arterial system, over time the heart can thicken, the walls thicken, we call that target organ damage and when that occurs that's kind of the first step, first process towards heart failure,” said Baker-Smith.
That process can take decades and if it starts in childhood, there's an increased chance it'll worsen in adulthood.
“These are conditions that we address early, we can treat them early. It doesn't necessarily mean that your child's going to be on medication for life,” said Baker-Smith.
While the condition is more common in overweight kids, other children can experience it as well. Children who are born premature, have a sleep disorder, are predisposed to the condition, or take certain medications may also be at risk of hypertension.
“Don't drink a lot of sugary beverages, try to drink mostly water and fat free milk, exercise every day, have fun. Eat some of the green leafy stuff and fruits,” Baker-Smith said.
Dr. Baker-Smith said all children three and above should have their blood pressure checked yearly by a pediatrician. If the child has any known risk factors, they should get checked every visit.
The guidelines also illustrate the proper way to check a child's blood pressure and gives providers a simplified table to more easily spot whether a child’s blood pressure is considered abnormal.
There are multiple weight loss programs for kids in Baltimore, including one at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital.
If you'd like to check out the full guidelines, click here.