Why more kids could soon be diagnosed with high blood pressure

AAP releases new guidelines for diagnosing and treating high blood pressure in kids

Cases of high blood pressure in kids are likely to become more common under new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) -- and that’s a good thing, the academy contends.

Abnormally high blood pressure affects about 3.5 percent of children and teens, but it often goes unnoticed and untreated, the AAP said in a recent report.

"If there is diagnosis of hypertension, there are many ways we can treat it," said Dr. David Kaelber, co-chair of the AAP subcommittee on screening and management of high blood pressure in children. "But because the symptoms are silent, the condition is often overlooked."

Can lead to bigger problems

Left untreated, high blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to heart and kidney problems down the line, the guideline authors noted.  

Previously, tables used for diagnosing pediatric hypertension included blood pressure measurements for children and teens who are overweight or obese (a condition known to raise blood pressure).

Under the new guidelines, kids will have their blood pressure measured against normal-weight children, thereby lowering the blood pressure value considered to be ideal.

Early detection tool

While the change will likely cause an increase in the number of children categorized as needing treatment, the updated guidelines could help kids grow up to become healthier adults than they otherwise would have been.

"Prevention and early detection are key," said Dr. Joseph Flynn, who co-chaired the subcommittee alongside Kaelber. "High blood pressure levels tend to carry into adulthood, raising the risks for cardiovascular disease and other problems.”

“By catching the condition early, we are able to work with the family to manage it, whether that's through lifestyle changes, medication, or a combination of treatments,” Flynn said.

Per the new guidelines, doctors should prescribe medication to lower kids’ blood pressure if lifestyle changes aren’t successful at reducing blood pressure, or if the patient has another condition, such as kidney disease or diabetes.

"These guidelines offer a renewed opportunity for pediatricians to identify and address this important -- and often unrecognized -- chronic disease in our patients," Kaelber said. "The easy part was developing the new guidelines. Now we begin the harder work of implementing them to help children and adolescents."

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