High Blood Pressure in Children

Blood pressure measures the health of your child’s arteries and how hard the heart is working to pump blood through those arteries. An increased force of blood rising against the arteries creates high blood pressure or hypertension.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Dedicated pediatric hypertension treatment: The pediatric nephrology program at Rush University Children’s Hospital offers a pediatric hypertension center that expertly treats young patients who are struggling with difficult-to-control blood pressure. Pediatric specialists help make sure your child’s blood pressure stays stable by finding effective, family-centered solutions to help lower your child’s blood pressure — and sustain it.
  • Prevention-focused expert care: A team of pediatric cardiology and pediatric nephrology specialists diligently works with you, your child and each other to put together a treatment plan that focuses on prevention. Your child’s care team is dedicated to helping you and your child prevent your child’s high blood pressure from leading to other serious health conditions such as heart attack, aneurysm or kidney disease
  • Care close to home: Pediatric cardiologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital are available to see patients at our Rush campus in Chicago, Rush Oak Park Hospital, Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora, and at satellite locations throughout the city and the suburbs, including Evergreen Park, Joliet, Hoffman Estates, Tinley Park and Crown Point, IN.

What is high blood pressure in kids?

The measurement used to determine blood pressure is written similar to a fraction: 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). The two numbers used to determine blood pressure measure:

  • Systolic blood pressure: The top number, which measures the force of blood released during a heartbeat
  • Diastolic blood pressure: The bottom number, which measures the pressure inside arteries when the heart is resting

If either one or both of these numbers is too high, your child may have high blood pressure.

Factors that can affect your child’s blood pressure include the following:

  • Health of the kidneys
  • Health of the blood vessels, heart and nervous system
  • Hormone levels
  • Weight

Your child may not show symptoms of high blood pressure, so your child’s pediatrician may discover a blood pressure problem during a blood pressure check at a regular doctor’s appointment. A healthy blood pressure for kids is based on age, gender and height. Talk to your pediatrician about the appropriate blood pressure for your child.

Risk factors for high blood pressure

Surprisingly, high blood pressure in kids can occur just as easily as it does in adults. But the following factors can increase the risk in children:

  • Excess body weight or obesity
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • High blood sugar or type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Race (African-Americans are at greater risk for high blood pressure)

Causes of high blood pressure

Most often high blood pressure in kids is related to being overweight, but other health issues (referred to as secondary causes) can also cause it. These secondary causes include the following:

  • Certain types of tumors
  • Heart problems including coarctation of aorta
  • Kidney problems
  • Medications, including ibuprofen, steroids, birth control pills and some that treat the common cold
  • Sleep apnea
  • Thyroid problems

Once your child's provider treats one of these secondary causes, your child’s high blood pressure will likely return to normal.

Care for high blood pressure at Rush Children’s Hospital

Diagnosis

Before your child’s pediatrician diagnoses your child with high blood pressure, the pediatrician will have measured your child’s blood pressure many times. Any child age 3 or older should be receiving regular blood pressure checks. In addition to blood pressure tests, your child’s pediatrician may ask about the following:

  • Your child’s diet
  • Your child’s sleep history
  • Your family history
  • Other risk factors

Your child’s pediatrician will also do a physical exam to check for eye damage, signs of heart disease or any other changes to your child’s body. Other tests that may be done include the following:

If your child’s high blood pressure goes untreated, especially for a long period of time, it can cause serious health problems, including the following:

Treatment

Developing healthy routines

To reduce the risk of complications, treatment of high blood pressure in kids focuses largely on lowering it. The best way to achieve this is through lifestyle changes that emphasize healthy habits.

Building healthy behavior can be successful when the family works together. Here are some ways you can help your child lose weight and lower blood pressure:

  • Exercise with your child between 30 and 60 minutes daily (e.g., talk walks, go on bike rides).
  • Improve your family meals by following a low-salt, low-fat, low-dairy diet packed with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains.
  • Limit screen time and any sedentary activities to no more than one hour per day.
  • Reduce or eliminate foods with added sugar and sugary drinks.

Medications

Sometimes lifestyle changes are not enough or your child has other risk factors that make lowering blood pressure difficult. If this is the case, your child’s pediatrician may recommend high blood pressure medication. Medicine prescribed to manage your child’s high blood pressure may include the following:

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which prevent the change of a natural substance that constricts blood vessels to enlarge blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), which block a substance from binding to receptors to widen blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
  • Beta blockers or calcium channel blocks, which help your child’s heart to beat more slowly and reduce blood pressure.
  • Diuretics, which make your child urinate more often, reducing fluid in the bloodstream and lowering blood pressure.

To make sure that lifestyle changes or medications are working, your child’s pediatrician may ask that you regularly monitor your child’s blood pressure at home.