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Question

What causes high blood pressure in children?

Juan C. Kupferman, MD, MPH, FAAP

Answer

We generally think of high blood pressure (hypertension) as a problem that only affects adults. But the reality is that it can occur at any age.

In some cases, doctors don't know exactly what causes hypertension. However, there are factors that increase a child's likelihood of having it. These include having a family history of high blood pressure, for example, or obesity.

High blood pressure can cause serious health problems in the future, such as heart disease. That's why it's important to keep it under control.

Why is it important to check blood pressure in children?

There are several reasons your child's pediatrician checks their blood pressure routinely during visits.

In adults, hypertension can cause damage to many organs, including the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes. This can also happen in children with hypertension, although usually the effects are seen more long-term. A large proportion of children and adolescents with elevated blood pressure continue to have high blood pressure as adults.

As more research is done on young people, harmful effects of high blood pressure on the heart, blood vessels and even learning have been found.

What are the most common causes of high blood pressure in children and adolescents?

Primary hypertension, in which there is no other cause than the association with obesity (in many cases), is currently more frequent in the United States than secondary hypertension. With secondary hypertension, a cause is found.

The causes of secondary hypertension in children vary with age. In about 70-75% of these cases, the cause is a kidney problem or disease. There is a long list of other causes, such as vascular abnormalities in the aortic artery (aorta) or in the arteries that carry blood to the kidneys, thyroid diseases of the thyroid or adrenal glands, the use of certain medications, etc.

How to help prevent high blood pressure in children and teens

High blood pressure in children can be prevented, in many cases, with a healthy lifestyle. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy and making it a priority to get enough physical activity and sleep. In other words, controlling one disease (obesity) can help prevent the other (hypertension).

Talk to your pediatrician or primary care provider if your child has a family history of hypertension or if something worries you. Your doctor should measure your child's blood pressure as part of your regular health checkups.

More information

Juan C. Kupferman, MD, MPH, FAAP

Juan C. Kupferman, MD, MPH, FAAP received his medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires ​School of Medicine in Argentina and his Master's degree in Public Health from Columbia University in New York. He is board certified in general pediatrics and pediatric nephrology and is a professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Kupferman is also the co-editor of the Spanish versions of the AAP publications, Caring for Your Baby and Toddler, Third Edition and Second Edition of Your Baby's First Year.

Last Updated
10/25/2022
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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