A cardiologist, Okechukwu Anthony, says abnormally high blood pressure in children, usually undetected or not taken seriously, has potentially serious consequences, including organ damage.
“The more doctors know about the treatment, the more likely they are to make a diagnosis. It depends on a child’s sex, age and height, with pressures in the 90th percentile and above should be considered unhealthy. Full-blown hypertension in children is defined as pressures in the 95th percentile and above. For adults, only one measure is used to define high blood pressure,” he stated. “Nigerian parents, too, are part of the problem of missed diagnosis. Parents have very little awareness that their children could have high blood pressure, and they fail to make sure the doctor checks it and tells them the results.”
Mr Anthony, on Tuesday, stated that besides diabetes, being an adult disease on the rise in children and adolescents, high blood pressure had become more common.
The Abuja-based doctor said parents or their children’s doctors are sufficiently aware of this growing health problem.
He attributed high blood pressure in children mainly to increasing obesity and often underlying and treatable disorders.
“The greater the resistance, the harder the heart has to work to get oxygen-rich blood to the brain and outer reaches of the body. A major consequence of untreated high blood pressure in children is enlargement of the heart’s main pumping chamber,” explained Mr Anthony. “Left ventricle hypertrophy, as this condition is called, can develop in just a few years in children with hypertension. If a child’s hypertension is detected and brought under control, the enlargement will regress. But if it’s not treated, it just gets worse and can eventually lead to heart failure.”
According to him, high blood pressure is termed primary when the cause is unknown and secondary when it arises from illness or certain lifestyle choices.
“Secondary causes of high blood pressure in children and teens include kidney disease and heart disease; prescription of medicine such as corticosteroids or birth control pills; illegal drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine,” Mr Anthony stated further. “Others are endocrine disorders such as overactive thyroid hyperthyroidism and diabetes; mental health causes such as mental stress and anxiety. Children are more likely to have high blood pressure if they are overweight, have a family history of high blood pressure or heart disease, or have a mother who smoked during pregnancy.”
Mr Anthony advised the government to make it mandatory for children under three and above to have their blood pressure measured every year.
“In general, blood pressures in children should be lower than in adults. In adolescents, for example, a blood pressure of 120 over 80 millimetres of mercury is considered to be pre-hypertension, a condition that sets the stage for full-blown hypertension,” noted the doctor.
According to him, health providers need to know more about blood pressure in children.