What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure or force with which blood pushes on the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body. High blood pressure means the force is higher than normal levels. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.

How does high blood pressure affect children?

High blood pressure is diagnosed differently in children than in adults because healthy blood pressure levels change as a child grows. High blood pressure in children occurs when a child’s blood pressure is equal to or higher than that of 95 percent of other children of the same age, gender, and height.

Over time, high blood pressure can damage a child’s organs, including the brain, heart and kidneys because the heart and blood vessels are not delivering blood to the organs the way they should.

How common is high blood pressure in children?

Approximately 3.5 percent of children and teenagers aged 18 and under in the United States have high blood pressure. It is possible that the number is much higher than this, as some cases may be undiagnosed.

High blood pressure occurs more often in:

  • Boys
  • African-American and Hispanic children
  • Teenagers, rather than in younger children

What causes high blood pressure in children?

High blood pressure is classified based on the cause. The types of high blood pressure are:

  • Primary or essential hypertension: High blood pressure with no known cause
  • Secondary hypertension: High blood pressure caused by an inherited or underlying condition

In children, causes of secondary hypertension include:

  • Being overweight
  • Breathing problems during sleep (apnea)
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney disorders
  • Medications, including decongestants and steroids

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure in children?

Most children with high blood pressure have no symptoms. Doctors usually discover it when checking a child’s blood pressure during a routine checkup.
In rare cases, high blood pressure can cause a medical emergency.

What children are at risk for developing high blood pressure?

Children at higher risk for high blood pressure include those who:

  • Are African-American
  • Are overweight
  • Have a family member with the condition
  • Have diabetes
  • Were born prematurely or had a low birth weight

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