It's more common than you think
Why adults get it is fairly clear—here are the causes of high blood pressure
. But the number of kids who now struggle with the problem is alarming: A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics
estimates that 3.5 percent of all kids and teens have abnormally high blood pressure—though many of those remain undiagnosed. "There has been an increase in the prevalence of childhood high blood pressure, including both hypertension and elevated blood pressure," according to the report.
Risk factors to watch for
Overweight or obese kids are far more likely to develop high blood pressure—the risk is up to four times higher for the severely obese. Boys are also more likely to be diagnosed than girls, and rates are elevated in Hispanic and African-American children compared to white children. "Hypertension rates are higher in children with certain chronic conditions, including children with obesity, sleep-disordered breathing, chronic kidney disease, and those born preterm," according to the report. If your child has any of these risk factors, you may want to talk to your pediatrician about steps you can take now to reduce your child's chances of developing high blood pressure
It's not easy to detect it
Unfortunately, there are few signs of high blood pressure that you can detect on your own. And because normal blood pressure for a child varies by age and size, it has been complicated for pediatricians to diagnose it. "If there is diagnosis of hypertension, there are many ways we can treat it," David Kaelber, MD, co-chair of the AAP Subcommittee on Screening and Management of High Blood Pressure in Children, which developed the report, said in a statement. "But because the symptoms are silent, the condition is often overlooked."
The new guidelines simplified the blood pressure tables and lowered the "normal" blood pressure values, based on blood pressure readings for normal weight children. And pediatricians are now expected to do a blood pressure check at annual wellness exams—or every single visit if your child has one of the risk factors—to help catch high blood pressure as early as possible. See why hypertension is often a hidden condition that's hard to diagnose.
Changing your child's lifestyle can help
For most children and teens, the first step of treating hypertension will be changing to a healthier diet (the DASH diet
, which reduces sodium and "empty" carbs in favor of lean proteins and healthy fats) and increasing exercise. Consider adding these eight foods to your diet to lower blood pressure
Content continues below ad
Your child may need medication if his blood pressure remains high
Usually diet and exercise—especially regular, vigorous exercise, which is also great for a kid's brain
—will be enough to manage a child's blood pressure. But if lifestyle changes don't do enough to keep blood pressure under control, your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medications to help keep your child's blood pressure under control.
Your child's future health could be impacted
"High blood pressure levels tend to carry into adulthood, raising the risks for cardiovascular disease and other problems," says Dr. Joseph Flynn, who co-chaired the subcommittee. "By catching the condition early, we are able to work with the family to manage it, whether that's through lifestyle changes, medication, or a combination of treatments." High blood pressure can lead to heart, brain and kidney damage
, including heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. So it's important to do what you can now to help your child have a healthier future.