Anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of all children have hypertension but the condition is missed in up to 75 percent of children as the condition is generally asympotomatic and often unrecognized.
To address the issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics last year issued new blood pressure tables and streamlined recommendations that can help doctors identify the disease, one of the top five chronic conditions in children and teens. Under the old system, a doctor would have to consult multiple pages of charts to determine whether a child’s blood pressure was elevated.
The new guidelines have an easy-to-use table based only on a child’s gender and age, from 3 to 18.
“The guidelines are very user friendly,” said Dr. Juanita Hunter, pediatric cardiologist and associate professor of pediatrics for the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “It is easier to pick-up an abnormal blood pressure and can prompt early intervention.”
The new guidelines also streamline the definitions of high blood pressure for children 13 and older, aligning more with adult blood pressure guidelines.
Parents need to be aware of a child’s blood pressure reading because hypertension is a silent killer, Hunter said. Children with hypertension often have the condition as adults. If left unchecked, high blood pressure can have catastrophic effects on the heart and kidneys.
“Finding high blood pressure early can help in pediatrics,” said Dr. James Enos, pediatric and fetal cardiologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. “By working with a physician to combat the problem early, you can reduce cardiovascular risk and improve heart health for life.”
Getting regular exercise and eating healthy can help keep a child’s blood pressure in the normal range. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a good place to start, Enos said, as it reduces salt or sodium to less than 2300 mg per day.
Children should also have more fruits and vegetables, avoid sugary drinks and drink more water, Hunter said. And they should get at least 30 minutes of moderate to rigorous activity three to five times a week, where they break a sweat. Yoga and mindfulness can also help.
“The family becomes the patient,’’ she said. “The family can purchase healthy foods and exercise together. It is physically, emotionally and socially beneficial for the kids.”