As a preventive medicine physician I find that most adults care about blood pressure. But what's been a problem for nearly everyone, doctors and parents alike, is figuring out what a child's healthy blood pressure level should be.
The issue for doctors is how cumbersome measuring blood pressure in children and adolescents has been. The current guidelines, last updated in 2004, call for multiple complex steps, including a complicated reference table and percentiles that necessitate using the child's age, gender and height.
But now, writing an editorial in the medical journal, Hypertension, two pediatric specialists have come up with new simple guidelines for children's blood pressure levels that may change the game. In a desire to more easily identify children and teens at risk for hypertension and heart disease, they're suggesting just two simple numbers:
- Children, ages three to 11, should have blood pressure less than 110/70 mm Hg
- Adolescents, less than 120/80 mm Hg.
According to one of the co-authors, these proposed changes emphasize the need to stay below these numbers. "If your blood pressure never gets to 120/80 , your chance of heart attack, stroke or heart failure is very low," said Samuel S. Gidding, from the Nemours Cardiac Center of the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.
Blood pressure assessments are part of the pediatric physical examination starting at age three. One reason doctors want to more easily identify young kids at risk for pre-hypertension and hypertension is to help them avoid hypertension as an adult.
In our preventive medicine clinics that means we'd help them find heart healthy diets without a lot of salt, and we'd encourage lots of physical activity, not just for them, but for their whole family.