High blood pressure (hypertension) in children is blood pressure that's the same as or higher than 95 percent of children who are the same sex, age and height as your child. There isn't a simple target blood pressure reading that indicates high blood pressure in all ages for children, because what's considered normal blood pressure changes as children grow.
High blood pressure in children younger than 10 years old is usually caused by another medical condition. High blood pressure in children can also develop for the same reasons it does in adults — including being overweight, eating a poor diet and not exercising.
Lifestyle changes, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising more, can help reduce high blood pressure in children. But, for some children, medications may be necessary.
High blood pressure in children usually doesn't cause symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Unless your child has an underlying health problem, you probably don't need to make a special visit to your child's doctor to have your child's blood pressure checked. However, your child's blood pressure should be checked during routine well-check appointments starting at age 3, and at every appointment if your child is found to have high blood pressure.
If your child has a condition that can increase the risk of high blood pressure — including premature birth, low birth weight, congenital heart disease and certain kidney problems — blood pressure checks may begin during infancy.
If you're concerned about your child having a risk factor for high blood pressure, such as being overweight or obese, talk to your child's doctor.
High blood pressure in younger children is often related to other health conditions such as heart defects, kidney disease, genetic conditions or hormonal disorders. In older children — especially those who are overweight — the precise cause of high blood pressure is often unknown.
Your child's risk factors for high blood pressure depend on underlying health conditions, genetics or lifestyle factors.
Primary (essential) hypertension
Essential hypertension is high blood pressure that occurs on its own, without an underlying condition. This type of high blood pressure occurs more often in older children, generally age 6 and older. The risk factors for developing essential hypertension include:
- Being overweight or obese (a body mass index over 25)
- A family history of high blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes or a high fasting blood sugar level
- High cholesterol and triglycerides
Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure that's caused by an underlying health condition. This is the type of high blood pressure that's more common in young children. Other causes of high blood pressure include:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Heart problems, such as coarctation of the aorta
- Adrenal disorders
- Pheochromocytoma, a rare tumor in the adrenal gland
- Narrowing of the artery to the kidney (renal artery stenosis)
- Sleep disorders, especially obstructive sleep apnea
- Certain medications, such as decongestants, oral contraceptives and steroids
Children who have high blood pressure are likely to continue to have high blood pressure as adults unless they begin treatment.
A common complication associated with high blood pressure in children is sleep apnea, a condition in which your child may snore or have abnormal breathing when he or she sleeps. Pay attention to breathing problems your child may have while sleeping. Children who have sleep-disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea, often have problems with high blood pressure — particularly children who are overweight.
If, as often happens, your child's high blood pressure persists into adulthood, your child could be at risk of:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
High blood pressure caused by another condition can sometimes be controlled, or even prevented, by effectively managing the underlying condition. High blood pressure can be prevented in children by making the same lifestyle changes that can help treat it — controlling your child's weight, providing a healthy diet and encouraging your child to exercise.