Hypertension on Rise among Teens
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs when blood pushes too hard against a person’s blood vessels, potentially causing damage to the vessels and organs. The majority of people associate high blood pressure with older adults, but that is not always the case. Even children can have high blood pressure. Many people who have high blood pressure don’t realize they have it, because it rarely causes identifiable symptoms, even as it causes serious damage to the body.
Hypertension among youth is on the rise and now ranks in the top five chronic diseases for adolescents and children. Research confirms that children with high blood pressure are more likely to have hypertension as adults. It is very important to get blood pressure in teens under control so that they are not facing a lifetime of medical ailments. If it’s not treated, high blood pressure can damage the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. But when hypertension is caught early, monitored, and treated, youth can lead an active, normal life.
Diagnosing Hypertension In Youth
New guidelines released in August, 2017 encourage doctors to be on the lookout for signs of the condition in their young patients. Noting that doctors miss the signs far too often in youth — up to 75 percent of the time – the guidelines include a renewed focus on routine checks and tests so pediatricians can spot the potentially dangerous signs before hypertension takes hold.
Diagnosing high blood pressure in teenagers is more complicated than diagnosing it in adults. Among adults, there are clear numerical guidelines for diagnosis, but this is not true for teenagers. Instead of using absolute guidelines, the diagnosis in teenagers is made by relying on statistics that are stated in percentiles. In kids, high blood pressure is defined as blood pressure greater than the 95th percentile for their age, height, and gender (meaning 95% of kids of the same age, height, and gender will have blood pressure below this number).
Combine the difficulty of diagnosis in children with our culture’s assumption that high blood pressure is an ailment of the old, and you can see why so many doctors miss the disease in the young.
Risk Factors for Hypertension
Risk factors for hypertension in children include obesity, high BMI, high sodium intake, and family history. Doctors believe the increase in childhood hypertension is a result of poor lifestyle choices. Teenagers in the U.S. now weigh more and exercise less than teens of past generations. If your family has a history of high blood pressure, or if your teen is overweight and/or eats a lot of junk food, please ask your doctor about your child’s blood pressure at their next well visit.
Preventing High Blood Pressure in Teens
The ways to prevent high blood pressure in children and adults is:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Reduce salt intake
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
- Don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or abuse drugs
- Exercise regularly (at least 20 minutes on 3 or more days per week)
Regardless of whether your teen has high blood pressure now or not, you need to educate your teen about good health so that they can become healthy adults. They should know that smoking, drinking, or using drugs endangers their health in many ways, including causing high blood pressure. They should also know how to reach a healthy weight through proper nutrition and physical activity. You may need to teach your teen about healthy eating (refer to our previous blog Youth and Nutrition) because so many young people are unaware of how to eat a balanced diet. For example, lowering sodium is an important step in reducing high blood pressure, but it’s not always obvious what foods and drinks have a lot of salt. Most teens recognize that potato chips have a lot of salt, but few realize that hot dogs and Gatorade are also very high in sodium. Model good nutrition and exercise for your children.