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New guidelines may help catch high blood pressure in children

One in 30 children has high blood pressure, and doctors report that it is occurring at younger ages than expected.

By HealthDay News
Researchers say that as rates of obesity have risen, high blood pressure is being seen more often in younger children and is causing other health issues. Photo by ronstik/Shutterstock
Researchers say that as rates of obesity have risen, high blood pressure is being seen more often in younger children and is causing other health issues. Photo by ronstik/Shutterstock

TUESDAY, Oct. 31, 2017 -- One in every 30 children in the United States has high blood pressure. Now, new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics may help doctors screen children 3 years and older for the condition.

"We are seeing it at far younger ages than we used to," said Dr. Thomas Dispenza, a cardiologist with Penn State Children's Heart Group. "As obesity rates have risen, we have also seen more complications from it."

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But "detection rates are shockingly low. Three-quarters of cases are overlooked, and that's a real problem," Dispenza said in a Penn State Health news release.

Children with high blood pressure can develop the same long-term health problems as adults. "It can set kids up for strokes later in life by damaging the blood vessels," Dispenza said.

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The guidelines encourage doctors to check blood pressure at every well-child visit.

For better accuracy, medical providers should wait three to five minutes before taking a blood pressure reading, so that the patient has time to relax and calm down after arriving in an exam room. The child should also place both feet flat on the floor, with the back supported, and should avoid talking. Right arm readings are preferable.

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The guidelines are intended to help identify signs that warrant further investigation, not for rendering a final diagnosis.

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The academy hopes the guidelines will also assist doctors in picking up indications of other illnesses. For example, high blood pressure among children under 5 could be an indication of kidney disease or an endocrine condition. In children aged 6 and older, it may indicate hardening of the arteries.

If a high blood pressure diagnosis is made, children should be slowly transitioned to a diet that is low-sodium and composed primarily of plant-based foods, such as the DASH diet, the academy advises.

More information The American Heart Association has more about high blood pressure in kids.

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