Pediatric Hypertension Program

Pediatric Hypertension Questions and Answers

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure the heart creates as it pumps blood through your body. Every person has and needs blood pressure to live. Without it, blood wouldn't be able to move through your body to carry oxygen and fuel to internal organs. Most visits to your doctor include a blood pressure measurement. In children, blood pressure is usually measured starting at 3 years of age.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The higher (systolic), or top, number represents the pressure while the heart is beating. The lower (diastolic), or bottom, number represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. The systolic pressure is given first, and the diastolic pressure comes second. For example: 117/81 mmHg (117 over 81) means that the systolic pressure is 117 mmHg and the diastolic pressure is 81 mmHg.

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. In adults, hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. Pre-hypertension in adults is diagnosed if blood pressure is between 120/80 and 140/90. In childhood, normal blood pressure changes according to the child's age and size, so special standards have been set up to take this into account. Older teens often have blood pressure readings like adults.

High blood pressure makes the heart and arteries work harder. The heart must pump harder, and the arteries must carry blood that's moving under greater pressure. If high blood pressure continues for a long time, the heart and arteries may no longer work as well as they should. Other body organs, including the kidneys, also may be affected.

Can children have hypertension?

Yes. Although it is less common in children than adults, children can have hypertension.

What causes hypertension in children?

Most hypertension in children is caused by kidney disease. Other causes include certain heart conditions and hormone (endocrine) problems. Essential, or primary, hypertension may occur in older children, especially those with a family history of hypertension.

Are certain children at high risk of developing hypertension?

Yes. If there is a strong family history of hypertension, a child's risk of developing hypertension at some point in life is higher than if there is no family history of hypertension. Children who are overweight are also at increased risk.

Can hypertension in children be treated?

Yes. Depending on the cause of the problem, children with hypertension can get good results when treated with changes to their diets, medicines or surgery. Not all children need medicine. Your child's doctor will recommend treatment that is tailored to your child's needs.