Can Your Teenager Develop Hypertension?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a disease that most don’t begin to think about until they are well into their adult life, but more and more teenagers and younger children are now developing high blood pressure.

It was once believed that high blood pressure in teens was largely related to an underlying problem with the heart or kidneys. Research has shown that this is not the case and that teens today are developing hypertension in approximately the same proportions as adults.

One of the biggest reasons is the rise of childhood obesity. Teens in the United States now weigh more and exercise less than in past generations. Smoking cigarettes, as well as alcohol and drug use can also be contributing factors. As a result, rates of high blood pressure among this group have a grown at a rapidly increasing rate.

While these factors certainly can’t be ignored, they are not the only reasons why a teenager can develop high blood pressure. The teenage years are synonymous with puberty. The sudden bodily changes that take place during this time in a young adult’s life can also play a role. Hormone changes and rapid growth spurts can cause transient increases in blood pressure levels. As a result, even if a child isn’t overweight or inactive, they could still post high levels. Being obese or inactive can only add to the problem.

Another issue is understanding the definition of hypertension in teenagers. While determining hypertension in adults is fairly easy as there are set numerical values used as markers, diagnosing the disease in teens is more complicated. To determine hypertension in teens, doctors look at five key factors:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Height
  • Systolic reading (the upper value which represents the pressure when heart contracts)
  • Diastolic reading (the lower value which represents the pressure when the heart relaxes)

These values are then compared to other boys or girls to determine where the teen falls with a certain percentile. The system is a complicated one but takes into account factors that better characterize a teen’s blood pressure. As a result, blood pressure readings that may seem high when looked at on an isolated basis may end up being perfectly normal when adjusted for the child’s height, age, and gender.

Because teenagers with hypertension tend to suffer more cardiovascular events later in life, early intervention is vital to lowering the blood pressure and sustaining long-term control.

Treating hypertension in teenagers will typically focus on lifestyle interventions before medications are considered.  Suggested changes include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining an ideal body mass index (BMI)
  • Exercising regularly
  • Quitting cigarettes
  • Limiting drug and alcohol use

It’s important that your teenager have an annual physical examination performed so a doctor can check their blood pressure. If your teen does not have a doctor, Flushing Hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center has many qualified physicians. To make an appointment, please call 718-670-5486.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.