Hypertension: Children Can Have It, Too

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects almost one in three adults in the United States. However, this serious health condition isn't limited to just those ages 18 and older.

The number of children and adolescents with high blood pressure is increasing. This rise can be partly blamed on the increasing number of overweight and obese children.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and is the primary risk factor for stroke. Prehypertension is a condition that increases a child's risk of developing high blood pressure in the future. Children with hypertension have a higher risk for high blood pressure as adults. High blood pressure in childhood is also correlated with early development of atherosclerosis in adulthood.

Systolic pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading and corresponds to the pressure in arteries when the heart contracts. Diastolic pressure is the bottom number in a blood pressure reading, and corresponds to the pressure in the arteries between heart beats, when the heart relaxes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 3 years and older have their blood pressure measured each time they see their health care provider for routine checkups. Normal blood pressure in children depends on their gender, age, and height.


Parents and health care providers encourage children with high blood pressure to make lifestyle changes, such as losing weight. Other changes may include increased exercise and improved diet. A doctor may also give a child prescription medication to help control blood pressure.

Regular exercise helps control weight and may keep blood pressure in check. Regular exercise means 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days. Sedentary activities should be limited to less than two hours a day.

A healthy diet for a child with prehypertension or high blood pressure includes fresh vegetables and fruits, additional fiber, and nonfat dairy products, as well as limited salt and sodium. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily sodium intake of 1,500 mg/day; however, this number may be lower, depending on your child's age and other health considerations. Please consult your child's pediatrician regarding the recommended sodium intake for your child.