It’s easy to determine whether adults have high blood pressure. But determining whether a child’s blood pressure reading is normal can be a bit more complicated.
With adults, readings can be compared to published values that are considered normal or abnormal. Whether a kid’s blood pressure reading is high or normal depends on a few different factors.
Understanding The Normal BP Range for Kids
Children’s bodies change quickly early in life, so blood pressure readings must be adjusted according to:
Adjusted readings will then be compared to more complicated tables with percentile ranges. These ranges tell the doctor how the child’s blood pressure compares to other children by looking at combined readings of millions of children.
For example, normal toddler blood pressure (children aged 1-4) can range from 80-110/50-80.
Generally speaking, blood pressures from the 50th to 90th percentiles are considered to be in normal range.
Higher or lower values may indicate the need for medical treatment.
According to data from 2015, normal blood pressure ranges for children and teens is as follows:
Infant (1-12 months): 72-104/37-56
Toddler (1-2 years): 86-106/42-63
Preschooler (3-5 years): 89-112/46-72
School-age (6-9 years): 97-115/57-76
Preadolescent (10-11 years): 102-120/61-80
Adolescent (12-15 years): 110-131/64-83
What Causes of High Blood Pressure in Children?
Hypertension in children is typically related to other health conditions, such as:
In older children, particularly those who are overweight, the cause of high blood pressure is largely unknown.
A child’s risk for high blood pressure depends on a number of factors, including underlying health conditions, lifestyle factors and genetics.
Essential hypertension occurs on its own, without an underlying condition. This form of high blood pressure is common in older children aged 6 and older. Risk factors include:
Family history of high blood pressure
Being overweight or obese
High cholesterol and triglycerides
High fasting blood sugar level or type 2 diabetes
Secondary hypertension is caused by an underlying health condition. This form of high blood pressure is more common in young children. Causes of high blood pressure can include:
Polycystic kidney disease
Chronic kidney disease
Narrowing of the artery to the kidney
Pheochromocytoma, a tumor in the adrenal gland
Complications of High BP in Children
Children who develop high blood pressure are more likely to have high blood pressure as adults unless they begin treatment early on.
One common complication of high blood pressure in adolescents is sleep apnea. Children with sleep-disordered breathing are far more likely to have high blood pressure.
High Blood Pressure in Teens
High blood pressure is becoming increasingly common in teens, who now weigh more and don’t exercise as much as past generations.
It was once believed that teens only developed high blood pressure because of an underlying condition with the kidneys or hearts. However, new research is showing that teens are developing hypertension at about the same proportions as adults.
Most cases are classified as primary hypertension, which means it is not caused by an underlying health condition.
Normal blood pressure falls beneath the 90th percentile
Prehypertension falls between the 90th and 95th percentile
Stage 1 hypertension falls between the 95th and 99th percentile
Stage 2 hypertension is blood pressure greater than the 95th percentile
It’s important to note that some readings may seem high in isolation, but they may wind up being normal when adjusted for the teen’s age, height and gender.
When children are diagnosed with slightly or moderately high blood pressure, doctors typically suggest lifestyle changes. These changes include eating a healthy diet and following an exercise program. The goal is to try and resolve the problem through diet and lifestyle before prescribing medications.
Lifestyle and home remedies for treating high blood pressure in children include:
Adopting a Healthy Diet: Ditch foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates, and adopt a healthy diet rich in healthy fats, whole grains, lean protein and vegetables. Cut out sugary beverages, too, which contribute to obesity.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight can help lower blood pressure, particularly if the child is still growing.
Adopting an Exercise Routine: Exercise plays an important role in overall health for people of all ages. Children with high blood pressure should get 30-60 minutes of physical activity at least three days a week.
Lower Salt Intake: Lowering the amount of salt, or sodium, in your child’s diet can help lower his or her blood pressure. Children between the ages of 4 and 8 should have no more than 1,200 milligrams of salt per day. Older children shouldn’t consume more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day. Pay attention to how much sodium is in the processed foods you buy and do your best to avoid fast food whenever possible.
If these changes aren’t enough, the doctor may recommend blood pressure medication, which may include:
Beta Blockers: These reduce the workload on the heart, causing it to beat with less force and at a slower pace.
Diuretics: Also known as water pills, diuretics help your child’s kidneys eliminate water and sodium, which reduces blood pressure.
Calcium Channel Blockers: These medications relax blood vessel muscles and may slow the heart rate.
Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers: These medications relax blood vessels by blocking a chemical that narrows them.
Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors: These medications also relax the blood vessels by blocking the formation of a natural chemical that narrows them. Relaxing the blood vessels make it easier for the blood to flow, which naturally reduces blood pressure.