High Blood Pressure: Kids Can Have It, Too

High blood pressure (hypertension) affects about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. But this health problem doesn’t just affect adults. The number of kids with high blood pressure is going up. This may be because of the growing number of kids who are overweight. Poor diets and decreased physical activity are having a harmful effect on kids' health.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It's also the main risk factor for stroke. Kids with high blood pressure have a greater risk for high blood pressure as adults. High blood pressure in childhood is also linked to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in early adulthood.

Blood pressure checkups

Systolic pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading. This number is the pressure in arteries when the heart contracts. Diastolic pressure is the bottom number in a blood pressure reading. This is the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats, when the heart relaxes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children ages 3 years and older and teens have a blood pressure screening at their yearly well-child visit. Blood pressure should be checked in all children and teens older than 3 years of age every time they see their healthcare provider if they:

  • Are obese

  • Are taking medicine known to increase blood pressure

  • Have kidney disease, diabetes, or a history of aortic arch blockage or coarctation.

Normal blood pressure in kids depends on their gender, age, and height.

Your child's healthcare provider will evaluate your child's blood pressure based on their age, gender, and height percentile. This is called a blood pressure percentile. Your child's blood pressure is considered high if the blood pressure percentile is 95% or higher measured on 3 separate occasions.

Treatment for kids

Treatment for high blood pressure in children involves lowering blood pressure to goal. Your child's healthcare provider may also check for other conditions that may lead to high blood pressure such as kidney or endocrine diseases.

Parents and healthcare providers should urge kids with high blood pressure to make lifestyle changes. This includes losing weight, exercising more, and eating a healthier diet. In some cases, your child's provider may also give them medicine to help control blood pressure.

Regular exercise helps control weight and may keep blood pressure in check. Regular exercise means at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily for children and teens ages 6 to 17. Children ages 3 to 5 should be encouraged to engage in daily active play and structured activities, such as bike riding. Activities that involve sitting should be limited to less than 2 hours a day.

A healthy diet for a child with high blood pressure should include:

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits

  • Fiber  

  • Nonfat milk, cheese, and other dairy products

  • Lean, unprocessed protein and meats

  • Very little salt, saturated fats, and sugar

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Scott Aydin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2022
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