We don’t usually think of blood pressure as a matter of concern during childhood — and for most kids, it’s not. But blood pressure is an important vital sign and one that your child’s physician should be taking at every check-up.
Babies’ blood pressure measurements are taken at birth as part of routine newborn screenings. After that, expert guidelines, including those of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), call for measurements to be taken at well-child visits and sick visits in the pediatrician’s office, starting at age 3.
What’s Considered “Normal” Blood Pressure for Kids?
Determining normal or optimal blood pressure for children is a bit complex because it depends on a number of factors including age, height and gender. A simplified approach is to use these thresholds:
A child from 3 to 11 years should have blood pressure at or below 110/70.
From age 12 upward, a measurement of 120/80 or lower is ideal.
Your doctor can use detailed tables to determine more precisely if your child’s blood pressure is normal, borderline or high.
The majority of children and teens we see with elevated blood pressure (hypertension or pre-hypertension) are overweight. For these patients, treatment consists of lifestyle changes that include a doctor-approved diet and physical activity plan. Increased cardiovascular exercise, and a diet low in salt and rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and low-fat dairy has been shown to lower blood pressure. For pre-pubescent children, we’re not so much trying to achieve weight loss as to help kids grow into their weight. For about 1-2 percent of our patients who have sustained high blood pressure at multiple doctor visits, we prescribe medication along with lifestyle modifications.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
The most common cause of high blood pressure in non-overweight children is kidney disease. Though rare, some children can have isolated hypertension without an associated medical condition or obesity. Elevated blood pressure means the heart may be working harder than it should be. And sustained high blood pressure can damage the kidneys and blood vessels.
Hypertension tends to run in families, but age is a much more powerful risk factor than family history. In fact, high blood pressure affects about half of U.S. residents over age 50, most of whom are taking some type of medication to treat it.
A growing body of evidence indicates that elevated blood pressure in childhood and adolescence may be valuable in predicting adult heart disease. If your child’s primary care providers aren’t routinely taking blood pressure measurements, ask them to do so.