Curbing hypertension in Children
Hypertension is one of the problems making a covert incursion into the lives of millions of children in Nigeria and around the world, says Dr. Ayo Renner,a consultant paediatrician and fellow of the West African College of Physicians.
Hypertension in children is blood pressure that is at or above the 95th percentile for children who are the same sex, age and height as your child. The World Health Organisation defines it as an elevation of blood pressure to excessive or abnormal levels. In 2020 WHO report, 3.8 per cent of children aged three to 18 years have hypertension; this figure dramatically rises to 30 per cent in children who are obese.
According to the online child health educator, also known as thenoisynaijapaediatrician, the younger a child is, the more likely it is that the high blood pressure is caused by a specific and identifiable medical condition. Lifestyle changes, such as eating a heart-healthy diet low in salt (sodium) and exercising more, can help reduce high blood pressure in children, but for some children, medications may be necessary.
Some of its symptoms in a crisis situation which needs urgent medical care which include: headaches, seizures, vomiting, chest pains, fast, pounding or fluttering heartbeat (palpitations) and shortness of breath. Hypertension in children has the potential to cause stroke, long term kidney damage, and harmful enlargement of the heart. While these effects may not be apparent in childhood, by the time such children reach their 40s these complications may lead to sudden death and complications that may impair their quality of life.
Dr. Renner noted, “contrary to the myth that hypertension is caused by stress or excessive thinking about how to pay house rent, hypertension can be caused by numerous factors including obesity, kidney disease and diabetes, all of which children can have. An excessive amount of certain types of hormones produced in the adrenal glands and the thyroid gland can lead to hypertension.
“Hypertension can be detected by measuring the weight for the child and comparing with height, hence blood pressure should be measured annually for every child. This condition can be managed depending on the cause; so a doctor will look for the possible causes and treat accordingly. They may also recommend lifestyle modifications like a reduction in the consumption of processed foods, eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing salt intake and increasing exercise. Placing children on antihypertensive drugs is also a treatment option.”
The consultant paediatrician added that hypertension in children is not a disease exclusively seen in developed countries. With increased westernisation of diet of some children in Nigeria, cases of hypertension might soon be comparable to that in western societies.