Since the long-term health risks for hypertension in children and adolescents can be substantial, the National High Blood Pressure Education Program Working Group on Children has established new blood-pressure guidelines. It recommends that children's blood pressure be checked with regularity beginning at age 3.
The results of their study appears as a supplement to the August issue of Pediatrics. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay discusses the findings and clarifies the importance of monitoring children's blood pressure.
Senay says that many doctors have been monitoring blood pressure in young children for some time now, but usually only after an illness occurs. At that time, hypertension was considered a symptom of or reaction to that illness rather than a possible cause. Now doctors are being urged to take a look at blood pressure during routine visits and before illness occurs.
In the the last study from this group (1996) doctors were advised to check blood pressure in early childhood, but offered little advice in what to do if hypertension was discovered. The significance of this new study is that doctors are now being offered clinical recommendations on how best to treat hypertension, which ranges from increased physical activity to drug therapy.
The first and foremost risk of high blood pressure in children is obesity. If a child has high blood pressure, or hypertension, then their risk of being obese is also high. And the earlier warning signs out there for physicians and parents, the better, Senay explains.
Here are the blood pressure levels you should look for:
Source: National High Blood Pressure Education Program
Senay explains that blood pressure levels vary slightly according to gender and height, but here's what's considered "normal" in boys in the 90th percentile for height. At 3 it would be 108 over 63, at 6, 113 over 72, by 12 it's 123 over 78, and at 16, 133 over 82. The numbers may look close, but if your child is 3 with the average blood pressure of a 16 year-old, there's reason for concern.
Before someone can be considered at risk for hypertension, his pressure must be checked several times. The pediatrician will want at least three readings, each from a different office visit, to establish consistent levels of your child's blood pressure.
In some cases, children under 3 should be checked with regularity. These include children who were born with low birth weight, had a prolonged hospital stay, have congenital heart disease or are on medication that may increase their heart rate. If this is not the situation for your child, it's best to wait until your child turns 3 to begin monitoring.