Hypertension in Children

We have been conditioned to believe that high blood pressure is an adult’s disease and this is true to a large extent. But recent studies have shown that some cases of hypertension begin in childhood.  The percentage of children suffering from high blood pressure is increasing. It is estimated that at least 30% of all overweight children have or will shortly have hypertension.

Why is this happening?  There are a number of reasons not least of which is our modern society where parents are afraid to let their children be kids.  Constant media coverage of the latest child kidnap, abuse case or drug story means that children are less likely to be running around the streets. Our children lead sedentary lives – more time is spent indoors watching TV, or playing computer games. 

There is less emphasis on physical education in the race for kids to get good marks in their exams and succeed in life.  More and more children are born into families where both parents are working and thus home cooked food is rarer than lottery winners.   

There is an over reliance on mass produced cheap fast food.  Think of school dinners, TV dinners etc.  What have they in common – lack of fruit and vegetables, too much salt and Trans fats.  Food manufacturers add Trans fats and salt to food in order to make it taste better and last longer.  One average sized packet of potato chips contains 117% of the daily recommended salt allowance for kids.   

But only about 10% of the children who do have hypertension are diagnosed.  Why? How often does your child’s doctor check their blood pressure? How many surgeries have child sized blood pressure monitors?  How many parents actually think of having their child’s blood pressure checked?

Yet studies in Sweden have shown that premature babies (boys in this study but possibly extends to both sexes) are predisposed to hypertension.   Is it normal procedure for children who were premature but are thriving, to have annual medicals where their blood pressure is checked? Not in my neighbourhood?  Yet this study suggested that children born at 29 weeks or less were more than twice as likely to suffer high blood pressure.

Hypertension in adults rarely shows symptoms until the condition is advanced.  But more than 50% of children suffering from hypertension have symptoms ranging from frequent headaches, daytime tiredness, chest pains and sleeping difficulties.  How many parents would think of asking their doctor to check a child’s blood pressure if the child complained of these symptoms?

The good news is that for most children with hypertension, the treatment is a healthy diet and exercise program.  Very rarely is it necessary to medicate children for high blood pressure problems. So next time you take your child to the clinic why not, as a precaution, ask their doctor to add a blood pressure check to his standard routine.