SSM Health Medical Minute – How is high blood pressure monitored in children?

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Over time, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can damage your blood vessels, allowing cholesterol and other substances to build up. High blood pressure also increases your heart’s workload, which can affect its ability to pump blood.

While high blood pressure is most commonly found in adults, about 3-5% of children also have high blood pressure. Temporary increases in blood pressure can be caused by nervousness, pain, anxiety, emotions and may cause “white coat hypertension” in children while they are at the doctor’s office. But doctors are mostly concerned with reviewing what a child’s normal blood pressure is away from the office.

SLUCare Nephrologist Dr. Craig Belsha at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital will give children an ambulatory blood pressure monitor. It is a portable blood pressure monitor the child wears for 24 hours. During that time, it takes blood pressure readings every 15 minutes or so and gives doctors about 70 readings to review to generate a graph to look at blood pressure when they are away from the office.

“In children, high blood pressure can be caused by heart conditions, kidney conditions or endocrine conditions,” Dr. Belsha said. “Kidneys are very important in blood pressure control. They help to get rid of salt and water that can accumulate in certain conditions. The kidneys can release substances in the blood that can raise blood pressure in the body.”

So Dr. Belsha wants to exclude “what coat hypertension” first. Then, if blood pressure is consistently high, he wants to find out why.

“Is it a kidney problem, a heart problem, and what to do about it? Do we need medicine, lifestyle changes, or diet control? And how we can help children avoid the long-term problems like heart disease?” he said.

Getting the whole family involved in monitoring high blood pressure is key to success especially in helping children wear their monitors as directed. Also, if the diet needs to change, getting the whole family involved can help the child as well.

To learn more about the Cardinal Glennon Hypertension clinic, click here.

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