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Hypertension in Kids Often Treated by Lifestyle Changes

The Children’s Preventive Cardiology Program provides services for kids with conditions that put them at risk for early heart attack and stroke. When risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension are properly treated, often with just a healthy diet and exercise, early cardiovascular disease may be prevented.

One of the risk factors of early cardiovascular disease is hypertension or elevated blood pressure. Hypertension describes the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. What is considered elevated blood pressure in children varies based on age and height. When a child reaches age 13, adult data is used, and blood pressures of 120/80 are considered elevated.

“Hypertension in kids older than three frequently displays no signs or symptoms,” said Michelle Wallace, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. “Sometimes they can have frequent headaches or bloody noses. Some kids have white coat syndrome, where their blood pressure is only elevated in the doctor’s office.”

While hypertension can be connected to conditions like obesity, kidney disease, an endocrine or heart problem, such as narrowing of the aorta, in most cases doctors don’t have a good cause for hypertension in children. Hypertension can cause increased thickness of the heart, which is a marker for early cardiac disease like heart attack and stroke in early adulthood. Severely elevated blood pressure in childhood could cause stroke, but it is very rare.

In many cases, hypertension is lifestyle related,” Dr. Wallace said. “To treat it, we start with lifestyle changes like cutting back on salt and caffeine and adding exercise, which in many cases can bring the numbers back down to normal levels. If these changes don’t help, we start to consider medication. There are many medications to choose from.”

Children who are found to be at risk of early heart attack or stroke will likely need follow-up care and management of their condition. Sibley offers close monitoring, counseling on nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle changes, and advice on treatment with or without medicine.

“Sibley has a unique group of physicians dedicated to preventing heart disease later in life,” Dr. Wallace said. “Cholesterol and hypertension are the primary focuses of our clinic, and we work with patients to lower those levels by partnering with other specialties and nutritionists to provide specific guidelines for families to manage their child’s health. Not everyone can offer that type of comprehensive care.”

Although hypertension can be a serious condition, Dr. Wallace says parents should not be alarmed by one high blood pressure reading. It doesn’t necessarily mean their children will need medication for the rest of their lives.

“We always think about lifestyle changes first,” Dr. Wallace said.

Resources to learn more:

The American Heart Association (AHA)

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.

 The Preventative Cardiology Team

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