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Some Kids Under 3 Need Blood Pressure Checked

High Blood Pressure in Childhood Increasingly Common
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Different Set of Numbers

In adults, high blood pressure is diagnosed when the top (systolic) number of a blood pressure reading is more than 140, or when the lower (diastolic) number is more than 90.

"But for young children, there is no one number that defines high blood pressure because there is a normal rise in blood pressure with growth and development," she tells WebMD.

Instead, doctors will use charts similar to "growth tables" that place children into groups for their height and weight. These charts will have blood pressure norms based on the child's age, sex, and height.

In addition to taking blood pressure readings of all children beginning at age 3, the guidelines recommend that blood pressure be routinely measured in younger children with certain conditions, including those born prematurely or at a low birth weight, those who had a prolonged hospital stay after delivery, those with heart disease, and those taking medications that can raise blood pressure.

Kids and a Change of Life

Under the guidelines, children in the 90th or above percentiles for their age have "prehypertension," suggesting the need for lifestyle changes. Those children, as well as some with mild high blood pressure, would typically be first treated with lifestyle medication similar to adults with either condition.

"That means increasing physical activity in children who are sedentary, making dietary changes, and for those who are already overweight, taking measures to control weight," says Falkner.

Weight loss should be the No. 1 treatment for high blood pressure due to obesity, according to the guidelines. Both regular physical activity and a reduced-calorie diet should be part of the weight loss plan.

Physical activity should include some activity that the child enjoys for 30 to 60 minutes at least four days a week. Sedentary activities, such as watching TV, using a computer, or playing video games, should be limited to less than two hours a day to help prevent obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Diet should include limited salt as well as a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Reducing salt can also help bring blood pressure down. The experts also suggest getting the whole family involved because that improves weight loss success in children.

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