Question of the Week

October 1, 2007


Most people have heard that high blood pressure is bad, but many people don't know what those blood pressure numbers really mean, or why they matter.

"Blood pressure is the force in the arteries when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and when the heart is at rest (diastolic pressure). It's measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). High blood pressure (or hypertension) is defined in an adult as a blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg systolic pressure or greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg diastolic pressure. High blood pressure directly increases the risk of coronary heart disease (which leads to heart attack) and stroke, especially when it's present with other risk factors. ..."

While high blood pressure is fairly straightforward to define in adults (and, therefore, more easily diagnosed), it is more complicated to both define and diagnose in children.

"Doctors spotted only one in four children who had high blood pressure in a new study, showing how easily and often the dangerous problem is missed. ... One of the biggest reasons that hypertension is missed in children is that normal blood pressure values change based on a child's age, gender and height. So, while 120/80 mm/Hg is a normal reading for an adult and for some older children, that same reading could indicate high blood pressure in a younger, shorter child. ... [Additionally, a] child must have three readings that fall into the high blood pressure category before the diagnosis can be accurately made, Kaelber said. That makes diagnosis tough, he added, since a long time can elapse between each well-child visit. ... Factors making it more likely a child would be diagnosed with hypertension were older age, taller height, obesity and having more than three abnormal blood pressure readings. 'Those more at risk of having hypertension undiagnosed were children who were younger, shorter and those who didn't have an obesity-related diagnosis,' said Kaelber."

While children with an "obesity-related diagnosis" were more likely to be diagnosed, those with healthy weights should be screened for high blood pressure, as well.

"For some children, high blood pressure is caused by problems with the kidneys or heart. But for a growing number of kids, poor lifestyle habits -- such as an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise -- contribute to high blood pressure. High blood pressure in children has become a natural extension of the nationwide obesity epidemic."

Whatever the cause, high blood pressure is an unhealthy sign.

"When a child has high blood pressure, the heart and arteries have a much heavier workload -- the heart has to pump harder and the arteries are under greater strain as they carry blood. Although severe hypertension is rare in kids, even mild to moderate hypertension can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes over time. ... If your child's blood pressure isn't what it should be, the treatment will depend on just how high it is and what's causing the increase. ... But when kids have mild to moderate hypertension -- and there's no underlying illness or other probable cause -- doctors may suggest an initial game plan that includes: * weight loss * more fruits and vegetables * less salt * more exercise and participation in organized sports (although kids with severe hypertension need a doctor's OK before any strenuous activities) ... Being proactive can help curb any potential problems down the road. With early diagnosis and treatment, kids with high blood pressure can lead active, normal lives."

While a healthy diet and exercise routine can be part of the treatment plan once high blood pressure is suspected or diagnosed, they can also play a key role in prevention.

Whether high blood pressure is an imminent concern or not, a health care professional can help those who are interested in prevention and/ or treatment to create the diet and exercise plan that is right for them. For many, this involves breaking old habits and replacing them with new ones; the trick is finding new ones that are healthier.

"Sodas -- even diet ones -- may be linked with increased risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, researchers said on Monday. They found adults who drink one or more sodas a day -- diet or regular -- had about a 50 percent higher risk of metabolic syndrome -- a cluster of risk factors such as excessive fat around the waist, low levels of 'good' cholesterol, high blood pressure and other symptoms. 'When you have metabolic syndrome, your risk of developing heart disease or stroke doubles. You also have a risk of developing diabetes,' said Dr. Ramachandran Vasan of Boston University School of Medicine, whose work appears in the journal Circulation. Prior studies have linked consumption of sugar-laden sodas with multiple risk factors for heart disease, but Vasan and colleagues also found the link extends to diet sodas."

Questions of the Week:
Who should know the risks of high blood pressure? Who should be screened? What can you do to prevent and/ or treat high blood pressure on your own? When should you go to a medical professional for help? What do you think your peers and family members know about high blood pressure? (Prevention? Treatment? Risk factors? General knowledge?) What should they know? What do you think is the best way to reach them with the information that they need?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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