Often overlooked: high blood pressure in children
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a health condition that is typically associated with adults. However, it is a concerning issue that can affect individuals of all ages, including children. While it may not be as prevalent among children as it is in adults, the incidence of high blood pressure in children is on the rise. Children are rarely on the radar. Increased levels are particularly risky for them. Because the longer the vessels are exposed to excessive pressure, the more damage it causes in the long run. Possible consequences are heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
Sadly, this condition often goes unnoticed, leading to potential long-term health complications. In this article, we will shed light on the often overlooked problem of high blood pressure in children, its causes, risk factors, signs, and the importance of early detection and management.
The Prevalence of High Blood Pressure in Children:
Childhood hypertension is more common than previously thought. The American Heart Association estimates that around 3.5% of all children and adolescents in the United States have high blood pressure. However, this number may be underestimated due to the lack of routine blood pressure screenings in children. With the increasing rates of childhood obesity, sedentary lifestyle habits, and unhealthy diets, the prevalence of hypertension among children is expected to continue rising.
Causes and Risk Factors:
Various factors contribute to high blood pressure in children. One of the primary culprits is obesity, as excess weight puts added strain on the cardiovascular system. Other risk factors include a family history of hypertension, certain medical conditions (such as kidney disease or heart abnormalities), certain medications (such as steroids or oral contraceptives), and unhealthy lifestyle habits, including a diet high in sodium and low in fruits and vegetables, lack of physical activity, and chronic stress.
Signs and Symptoms:
Identifying high blood pressure in children can be challenging since symptoms are often absent or nonspecific. Some signs that may indicate high blood pressure in children include persistent headaches, fatigue, vision problems, dizziness, nosebleeds, and difficulty breathing. However, these symptoms can be caused by other factors as well, making it crucial to consider risk factors and conduct routine blood pressure screenings.
Importance of Early Detection and Management:
Undiagnosed or untreated high blood pressure in children can have severe consequences on their long-term health. It can lead to damage to the heart, kidneys, and blood vessels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases in adulthood. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate regular blood pressure screenings into routine pediatric healthcare visits, especially for children with risk factors.
Blood pressure measurements in three-year-olds
The Children’s Health Foundation suggests that blood pressure measurements should be taken every two years in three-year-olds.
When evaluating blood pressure in adolescents, several factors must be considered. Children typically have lower blood pressure readings compared to adults, and there are no universally applicable normal values for them. Normal values differ based on the child’s gender, age, height, and weight.
It’s important to note that accurate measurements require the use of special cuffs if the child’s arms are thin and short to avoid inaccurate readings.
First measure: adjust diet and exercise
Elevated blood pressure levels can often be reduced with a healthier lifestyle: more exercise, healthier meals, weight loss. This applies to adults as well as to children.
Two crucial levers are the reduction of salt and sugar in food:
Low salt: Salt directly raises blood pressure because it forces the body to push more fluid into the vessels to dilute it. It is then helpful either not to get the children used to high-salt food at all or to gradually reduce the salt content in the food. For example, you should avoid salt shakers on the table, which invite you to add spices.
Low in sugar: Sugar is conducive to weight gain , especially when consumed in the form of sweetened beverages. Switching to water and unsweetened teas can help here.
Rarely ready-made meals: Overall, it is worth avoiding ready-made meals as a matter of principle – or at least reading through the list of ingredients. Finished products often contain a lot of things that are unhealthy: lots of fat – often hardened or with polyunsaturated fatty acids – lots of salt and/or sugar – the latter also in savory dishes. In addition, there are often food additives such as preservatives.
More exercise: Children and young people should also be physically active for at least one hour a day.
The good news – A lifestyle change has a measurable effect on blood pressure values in children more often than in adults.
Affects three out of every hundred adolescents
According to the German Hypertension League, approximately three out of every hundred adolescents in Germany are affected by high blood pressure (hypertension). This number is on the rise, particularly among overweight adolescents, where one in four already experiences hypertension.
Similar trends have been observed in other countries. In Austria, for instance, the MedUni Vienna warned about a rise in high blood pressure among adolescents, particularly among males in puberty, with 20 percent already affected. Lack of physical activity and severe obesity were identified as contributing factors.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as in many countries, high blood pressure in children is becoming a concern due to the rising prevalence of obesity and sedentary lifestyles. The rapid socioeconomic development in the UAE has led to significant changes in dietary patterns and physical activity levels among children, contributing to the increasing rates of childhood hypertension.
Due to the increasing prevalence of overweight children and young people in industrialized nations, the incidence of hypertension is rising in many regions. Boys are impacted at a rate three to four times higher than girls.
Treatment and Prevention:
The primary approach to managing high blood pressure in children revolves around lifestyle modifications. This includes promoting a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting sodium intake. Encouraging regular physical activity, weight management, and stress reduction techniques can also play a significant role. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to control blood pressure levels.
High blood pressure in children is often asymptomatic, so it is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs and symptoms, such as persistent headaches, fatigue, vision problems, dizziness, nosebleeds, and difficulty breathing.
If you are concerned that your child may have high blood pressure, please talk to your doctor. They can assess your child’s risk factors and recommend the best course of treatment
High blood pressure in children is a health concern that should not be overlooked. Its prevalence is increasing, and early detection is crucial for preventing long-term complications. Parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers should be vigilant about recognizing the signs, especially in children with risk factors. Routine blood pressure screenings, along with lifestyle modifications and, if necessary, medication, can help manage high blood pressure in children effectively. By addressing this often neglected issue, we can improve the overall health and well-being of our children and set them on a path towards a healthier future.