An alarming study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that three quarters of kids who have high blood pressure may be undiagnosed. This is serious stuff: Let's find out more.
Bottom line first
Kids' normal blood pressure varies with their age, height, sex, and weight. Yet pediatricians often don't account for this when assessing children's blood pressure, leaving many with the condition undiagnosed.
This study in 50 words or less
Researchers studied medical records of over 14,000 kids 3 to 18. They compared the number diagnosed with hypertension with the number who should have been, based on calculations adjusting for age, height, weight and sex. Only 26 percent of those who had hypertension had been diagnosed.
Yes, but. . .
The study, while carefully done and published in a major journal, studied only a population of children in Northeast Ohio who had electronic medical records. Whether findings apply to other children receiving different care is unknown.
The researchers used statistical methods, not clinical observations, to calculate the number of kids with hypertension and to estimate the number undiagnosed children nationally.
So what are you going to do about it?
Make sure your pediatrician takes your child's blood pressure at all well-child visits beginning at age 3. Ask whether the assessment is based on figures adjusted for age, sex, height, and weight.
The potential danger of high blood pressure in children should not be underestimated. Long-term data is not available, since high blood pressure in kids has not been recognized or diagnosed frequently until fairly recently. But researchers assume the same risks that apply to adults--serious cardiovascular disease and organ damage--apply to children. The risks may be much higher, since children may be exposed to the condition for much longer.
Major risk factors for hypertension in children include being overweight, not getting enough exercise, and having a family history of high blood pressure.
Many cases of high blood pressure in children can be both prevented and treated with the same lifestyle changes recommended for adults: a healthy diet, weight management and regular exercise. If your child is overweight or you have a history of high blood pressure, these measures are particularly important.
KidsHealth has an excellent report on high blood pressure in children. It includes an explanation of how hypertension in kids should be diagnosed.
Our medical expert in hypertension, Dr. Glenn Gandelman, can answer questions and provide insight.