A simple blood pressure reading can offer important information about a child’s health. But a reading that would be normal in an adult could signal hypertension in a child, and doctors often fail to take the extra steps needed to make this distinction, according to experts from the University of Michigan.
“This is becoming a much greater concern in society because of the obesity epidemic we’re seeing that’s contributing to high blood pressure among kids,” says Margaret Riley, M.D., of U-M Medical School and author of an article on the subject in this month’s American Family Physician. “Adult hypertension is the leading cause of premature death in the world and we may be missing ample opportunities to intervene early.”
In patients ages 3-18, Riley’s article advises doctors to:
• Measure blood pressure at every visit once a child turns 3, not just at annual checkups.
• Use the proper size blood pressure cuff. Using a cuff that is too large for the child is a common cause of inaccurate readings.
• Check the blood pressure values against readily available charts that factor in age, sex and height to accurately determine if the blood pressure is normal.
If a child does have high blood pressure, doctors should also test to find out whether the child has primary hypertension, usually attributed to lifestyle issues, or secondary hypertension, caused by underlying medical conditions like kidney, heart or thyroid problems, or sleep apnea. High blood pressure can start causing damage to the heart and circulatory system even in childhood, and can lead to a host of health problems, so getting this simple test right could prevent complications down the road.