Although hypertension is a lifestyle disease that predominantly affects adults, it is now beginning to impact children and adolescents as well. In addition to causing heart failure and stroke in adults, it can also cause cardiovascular issues in children, particularly as they age. Therefore, if a child has been diagnosed with hypertension, they must alter their lifestyle in order to manage the illness and avoid it from badly damaging their life. Medical experts feel that it is a significant medical problem that professionals and families must take seriously.
“Hypertension is defined as a condition where the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high. The more blood the heart pumps, the chances are higher for the arteries to become narrow, which therefore increases the blood pressure. A blood pressure reading is given in millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) and is depicted through two numbers, namely the systolic and diastolic pressures. If either or both measurements are above the upper limit of their range in healthy children of the same age, sex, and height, it will lead to a diagnosis of hypertension,” explains Dr Asmita Mahajan, Consultant Neonatologist & Pediatrician, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim who says that these measurements must be taken three times before a diagnosis is confirmed.
If a child has been diagnosed with hypertension, they are at a higher risk of heart and lung failure complications. They would also require treatment for the condition depending on the severity and specific situation. “While hypertension in children younger than three is rare, some situations, including the below, can result in them,” says Dr Asmita, who shares a list of conditions in which a child can develop hypertension.
• Complications at birth (prematurity, slight for date, meagre birth weight, intensive care stay)
• Known heart disease, kidney disease; urinary tract infections, urinary loss of red blood cells (haematuria) or proteinuria in the child/parent
• Solid-organ or bone marrow transplant
• Brain disease associated with increased intracranial pressure
• Malignancy illness associated with hypertension (e.g., neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, sickle-cell disease)
• Therapy with drugs known to raise blood pressure (e.g., corticosteroids, oral contraceptives, stimulants used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders)
In addition, hypertension found in children can also be classified into two categories. The first type is essentially seen in older kids with no precise cause for the high blood pressure while the second type which is termed secondary hypertension is mostly seen in younger kids, which might be due to some other underlying disease that is most related to the kidneys. “Remember, it is best to check BP once a year in all children who are above three years of age, however if they have any risk factors, make sure monitoring starts as early as possible,” adds the expert.
Children who suffer from mild hypertension may not show any symptoms, while symptoms for severe hypertension include headache, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, dizziness, nosebleed, and fast heartbeat. In addition, high blood pressure levels can sometimes also lead to fits (seizures), altered consciousness, breathlessness, or rapid breathing. Since the above symptoms are quite complex, children might not always be able to recognise them or communicate the same, even to their parents. “That is why the only reliable way to diagnose hypertension is by periodically checking the blood pressure levels through a BP machine that can be purchased from any medical store. As most children do not show specific symptoms, blood pressure levels should be measured yearly in every child older than three years of age,” says Dr Asmita.
These are some risk factors that are associated with cases of hypertension
• Obesity is directly linked to hypertension, and children who are overweight need to pay special attention to their lifestyle and diet.
• Parents who have hypertension tend to have children who suffer from the condition, so it is better to monitor BP levels regularly.
Diagnosis of hypertension, especially in children, can be difficult for the entire family. The first action that should be taken after a diagnosis is to compile a report on how the child's high blood pressure is impacting his or her kidneys, heart, and eyes. Living with hypertension is difficult since youngsters may be unable to comprehend the long-term consequences of their disease. However, simple procedures such as those listed below can help people deal with the situation more effectively.
• Parents must pay special attention to their child's food. If the child is overweight, fresh, home-cooked meals should be provided. While weight loss is necessary, eating a well-balanced and nutritious meal is essential.
• Encourage physical activity in youngsters through outdoor activities and exercises. Inculcating healthy lifestyle behaviours during childhood can have a significant impact on hypertension control, particularly in youngsters. At least three to five days each week, they must engage in 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity.
If lifestyle modifications are implemented, hypertension can be controlled. As children prefer to imitate their parents and elders, making adjustments at the family level will have a greater impact if a youngster exhibits the same behaviour. Also, if you observe any hypertension-related symptoms in a family member, contact a specialist or physician as soon as possible.
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