High Blood Pressure In Children
Blood pressure is the force of blood exerted against the walls of the arteries as the blood travels to all parts of the body. The heart’s pumping action creates blood pressure.
A certain amount of blood pressure is needed to get the blood to flow properly. Blood pressure varies throughout the day. It starts out lowest in the morning and as the day goes on, it gradually increases. Worry or anxiety, excitement and strenuous exercise can increase your normal blood pressure.
A Silent Killer
Hypertension is known as a silent killer because it usually has no signs and symptoms. Most patients with hypertension feel fine and do not know that their blood pressure is elevated.
When hypertension is very severe or advanced, symptoms may include headache, fainting and loss of kidney function. In late stages, convulsions may occur.
Understanding Blood Pressure Reading
There are two numbers to a blood pressure reading and both are important:
- The top number is the systolic blood pressure. It measures how hard the blood is hitting against the artery wall while the heart is contracting.
- The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. It measures how hard the blood is hitting against the artery wall while the heart is relaxing between the beats.
Taking a Blood Pressure Reading
To check blood pressure, a cuff is placed around the arm. It is important for the cuff to fit the arm correctly. A stethoscope is placed on the skin below the cuff, over an artery.
- The cuff is pumped up with air so that it tightens on the arm. Then the air is slowly let out. Sounds are heard through the stethoscope as the blood pushes back through the arteries. The very first sound heard is the systolic blood pressure.
- When the sound disappears, this is the diastolic blood pressure.
Some blood pressure machines can detect these measurements automatically without the need for anyone to listen with a stethoscope.
Since blood pressure can be influenced by anxiety, time of day and other everyday factors, it is important to measure your blood pressure on a couple different days.
Normal Blood Pressure for a Child
The normal blood pressure measurement for a child depends on three factors: age, gender and their height/weight. At age 18, normal adult blood pressure measurements are used.
All children with blood pressure over 120 / 80 need monitoring as they are at risk for developing hypertension (also known as prehypertension). It typically takes more than one measurement to diagnose hypertension. However, if the blood pressure is severely high, a diagnosis may be made. A pattern of high blood pressure helps establish a diagnosis of hypertension.
Children do not usually suffer the life-threatening cardiovascular effects of high blood pressure. The negative effects of hypertension usually develop over many years. Finding it early allows us to find the appropriate ways to address it and lower the blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Screening in Children
Children should have routine blood pressure (BP) measurements starting at three years of age as part of annual physical examinations.
Blood pressure may be checked more frequently in children who:
- Are significantly overweight or underweight
- Have stayed in the intensive care unit (ICU) for any amount of time after birth
- Have/ have had any known heart, lung, or circulatory problems
- Have experienced any complications or difficulties before, during, or shortly after birth
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