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High Blood Pressure in Children: What Causes It?

by Kari Kassir, M.D.

child-doctor-blood-pressure

 

Q. I was wondering why it would be that a child of normal weight who is physically active would have high blood pressure?
—Noelle, via Twitter

 

A. About 5 percent of children may have high blood pressure. Frequently, it's associated with obesity. But other factors can also cause it, including sleep apnea and various diseases and disorders. Children who aren't white or who have a family history of high blood pressure also have higher rates.

 

 

HOW TO FIND THE CAUSE OF YOUR CHILD'S HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
To figure out what's caused your child's high blood pressure, here's a brief overview of what should happen.

  1. The doctor should get a thorough history—ask lots of questions—to look for medical conditions or other risk factors, such as a family history of high blood pressure.
  2. You'll need to provide a complete list of over-the-counter and prescription medications.
  3. Your child will receive a physical examination, including a manual blood-pressure reading (as opposed to one by a machine; manual is more accurate).
  4. To confirm the diagnosis, you'll need to take home a device that measures blood pressure. You'll get readings from your child several times a day in different situations or locations. If the blood pressure is normal outside the doctor's office, your child might have white-coat hypertension, caused by nervousness around a doctor (white coat)!

The medical work-up that ensues will depend on the information gathered.

Of course, if the child has symptoms with the blood pressure, this is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization with treatment. These may include headaches, dizziness or visual disturbances and could mean stroke or another emergency problem.


Board-certified pediatrician
KARI KASSIR, M.D., is a pediatric critical-care physician at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Mission Viejo, Calif.

Last updated and/or approved: May 2010. Original article appeared in March/April 2009 former print magazine. Bio current as of March 2009. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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