High & Low Blood Pressure in Kids

Blood pressure is the measurement of the force produced as the heart pumps blood. While blood pressure varies throughout the day depending on activity levels, posture, diet, body temperature, and other factors, sustained high or low blood pressure is a cause for medical concern. Problems with high or low blood pressure can often be genetic, especially when identified in teens or young children.

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Causes of High Blood Pressure

Hypertension (high blood pressure) in kids and teens typically occurs without an underlying medical condition. Lifestyle factors such as obesity, stress, diet, and certain medications are the main cause of high blood pressure, especially in older children and teens. However, in some cases, it can be due to a variety of medical issues including kidney disease, hormonal disorders, lung problems, or heart problems. Hypertension in children under the age of 7 is usually caused by one of these concerns.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

In the majority of cases, children and teens with high blood pressure are asymptomatic. However, if high blood pressure is severe enough, symptoms could include headaches, dizziness, blurry vision, tachycardia, and nausea.

Other symptoms such as seizures, vomiting, chest pain, and shortness of breath could be indicative of a hypertensive crisis. It is important to seek immediate medical attention in the presence of these symptoms.

Treatment of High Blood Pressure

It is ideal for high blood pressure to be identified and treated as early as possible in order to prevent organ damage and changes to eyesight. If high blood pressure is due to an underlying medical condition such as kidney disease, treatment of the primary medical issue is key to getting blood pressure under control.

In most cases, lifestyle changes may be enough to treat hypertension. Your pediatrician may recommend a variety of lifestyle modifications such as limiting salt, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, consuming a healthier diet, and getting regular exercise. If no changes occur under these circumstances, medication may be necessary.

Causes of Low Blood Pressure

Causes of hypotension (low blood pressure) can be temporary and situational, such as dehydration or overheating (such as in a hot tub). One common form of low blood pressure is orthostatic or postural hypotension — a sudden drop in blood pressure upon standing up. Another common form of low blood pressure disorder is known as neurally mediated hypotension and occurs after standing for long periods of time. This type of low blood pressure is most common in children and is typically outgrown by adulthood.

Chronic low blood pressure can be caused by other underlying health conditions such as heart conditions, endocrine disorders, or anemia. Some medications have also been known to lead to hypotension.

In some cases, low blood pressure is a life-threatening emergency. Severe infection can lead to a sudden drop in pressure known as septic shock. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) or severe blood loss can also cause a sudden and dangerous drop in blood pressure. If any of these conditions are suspected, seek medical care right away.

Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure

As with hypertension, in most cases, hypotension does not cause symptoms. However, very low blood pressure can also cause fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, and fainting.

In the case of extreme hypotension, symptoms of shock may set in. These include confusion, cold and pale skin, rapid and shallow breathing, and a weak and rapid pulse. In the presence of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Treatment of Low Blood Pressure

Pediatric hypotension is typically treated by treating the underlying condition or with lifestyle changes. Adaptations may include drinking more water, changing medications, wearing compression socks, or eating more salt. As with hypertension, medication may be required in some cases.

Cases of acute low blood pressure may be treated in a hospital with IV fluids or blood transfusions.