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Why teens with high blood pressure could be at risk for organ damage

Researchers say testing within normal limits doesn't guarantee safety

Photo (c) AlexRaths - Getty Images
High blood pressure is generally seen as a condition that only affects adults, but a September study presented to the American Heart Association (AHA) shows that even adolescents could face dire risks from the condition.

Study author Dr. Elaine M. Urbina said that standard diagnostic testing is insufficient, meaning many teens who test within normal limits may be suffering from organ damage.

"Some adolescents may have organ damage related to blood pressure and are not targeted for therapy," Urbina said. "Imaging of the heart may be useful in youth in the high-normal range of blood pressure to determine how aggressive therapy should be."

Organ damage at “normal” levels

Testing for high blood pressure is different for adolescents and children than it is for adults. Instead of basing judgments on systolic and diastolic readings alone, doctors consider factors such as height, age, and gender to place teens in blood pressure “percentiles.”

In coordination with current standards, Urbina and her colleagues defined teens placed below the 80th percentile as having “normal” blood pressure levels. Teens falling between the 80th and 90th percentiles were considered to be in the “mid risk” group, while those measuring above the 90th percentile were in the “high risk” group.

After analyzing patient data for 180 teen participants, the researchers found evidence that teens falling in the “normal” blood pressure range were still at risk of organ damage. They also found that teens in the mid-risk and high-risk groups often had heart and vessel damage, which are serious risk factors for organ failure.

Treating high blood pressure in teens and children

The AHA says that treating high blood pressure in teens and children primarily involves managing lifestyle factors such as diet, weight, and exercise. In certain cases, a pediatrician may also prescribe medications to treat the condition.

For parents, a good first step is to ensure that their children are not at cardiovascular risk by calculating their blood pressure percentile. Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine have created age-based pediatric blood pressure reference charts to help consumers determine if certain teens fall within normal, prehypertension, hypertension levels.

For more information on high blood pressure in children, consumers can visit the AHA’s website here.

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