Hypertension and Your Kids

By Dr. Tej Mattoo

Did you know that kids can develop hypertension through poor diet, lack of exercise, and stressors, just like adults can? I would like to share some ways to control hypertension in children so that they can keep their kidneys healthy and prevent complications such as chronic kidney disease and heart failure.

What is hypertension? This is another word for high blood pressure, which happens when the heart is pumping blood through the body too hard. This can damage the arteries and other parts of the body, especially the kidneys. High blood pressure can cause kidneys to not work as well, leading to water retention and toxins building up in the body.

Hypertension can develop due to things like health and lifestyle choices. A common cause of hypertension is obesity. Obesity can also cause obstructive sleep apnea due to airway blockage that makes it difficult to breathe during sleep, which can cause high blood pressure.

What can you do to prevent hypertension? Eating a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and low amounts of salt and fat, and avoiding caffeinated and energy drinks is essential for preventing hypertension. Children should also receive an appropriate amount of calories for their age, height, and activity level to prevent obesity.

Exercise is another essential component to controlling hypertension. One- to 4-year-olds should have unlimited playtime, while those older than 5 should have moderate exercise for at least an hour a day with vigorous exercise three times a week. It’s important to match your child’s exercise level with their caloric intake. Exercise keeps the heart strong, meaning the body will require less effort to pump blood to keep hypertension at bay.

If your physician recommends at home blood pressure monitoring to evaluate and watch for hypertension, there are a few things to keep in mind. The target blood pressure for children 13 and older is less than 120 for the top (systolic) number and less than 80 for the bottom (diastolic) number. If the child is under 13, ask your doctor for their target blood pressure – it can vary based on age , sex, and height. If your child’s range is persistently outside of the healthy range, make sure to have a visit with your doctor. It’s important to ensure that the arm cuff is the correct size to get an accurate reading. You can bring your cuff along with you to the doctor’s office so they can determine if it’s a good fit.

Stress can also lead to elevated blood pressure. When you feel stressed, hormones are released in the body that make the heart pump faster and the blood vessels narrower, causing blood pressure to go up. Anxiety disorders affect one out of every eight children. Some mental health issues can be counteracted with mindfulness activities like yoga and meditation. Exercise and participation in sports are other great ways to lower stress. Aside from physically strengthening your heart, your mind benefits from exercising too because your brain releases endorphins, or “happy chemicals,” when you move your body. This means exercise is a multifunctional way to lower blood pressure.

A chronic kidney disease diagnosis can be a daunting thing, but through some simple lifestyle changes, it’s possible to slow the progression of this illness. Thank you for reading, and let’s keep our kids’ kidneys healthy so they can lead a healthy and fulfilling life!

Bio: Dr. Tej Mattoo is a pediatric nephrologist who currently practices at Wayne Pediatrics in Detroit, Michigan. He is nationally known as an expert on kidney disorders and hypertension in children. He also consults and provides second opinions via telemedicine for patients who are unable to travel to Detroit. You can visit the Wayne Pediatrics website at waynepediatrics.org


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