High blood pressure is a blood pressure measurement that is higher than normal. Blood pressure is the force of blood on the blood vessel walls. It is measured as 2 numbers, for example 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). These 2 numbers stand for:
Systolic pressure (the higher number)—the pressure inside of the arteries during each heart beat
Diastolic pressure (the lower number)—the pressure inside of the arteries in between each heart beat
For adults, 120/80 mmHg is considered a normal reading. Children’s blood pressure readings are lower than adults. Their blood pressure is based on a child’s gender, age, and height. This means that what is considered normal or high blood pressure changes as your child grows.
Organs Impacted by High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can affect the body in many ways.
High blood pressure usually does not cause any symptoms. In some cases, though, your child may:
Have a headache
Have vision problems
Your child’s blood pressure is measured at least once per year after your child turns 3 years of age. An arm cuff and a special device are used to take the reading. The doctor then uses a chart to find which percentile your child is in. This chart is based on your child’s gender, age, and height.
If a reading suggests high blood pressure, your child’s blood pressure will be measured several more times, including one taken at home. This is done in part to eliminate something called "white coat syndrome." Some children can feel very anxious when seeing the doctor. This can cause a temporary rise in blood pressure. The average reading will be used to make the diagnosis.
To find out if your child has an underlying condition, the doctor will ask about your child’s medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may also order tests, such as:
Blood pressure levels for boys by age and height percentile. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/child_tbl.pdf. Accessed November 10, 2015.
High blood pressure in children. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/UnderstandYourRiskforHighBloodPressure/High-Blood-Pressure-in-Children_UCM_301868_Article.jsp. Updated August 8, 2014. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Schub T, Uribe L. Evidence-based care sheet: hypertension in children and adolescents. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/pointOfCare/nrc-about. May 13, 2016. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Screening and treating kids for high blood pressure: AAP report explained. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/heart/pages/High-Blood-Pressure-in-Children.aspx. Updated August 21, 2017. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 7/13/2012
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