Number of American children hospitalized for high blood pressure skyrockets

By Scott Howe

Image: Flickr_parcelbrat

More and more kids are showing up at hospitals with high blood pressure, according to a new study. Kids with high blood pressure are more prone to develop other risk factors and actual heart disease and stroke. If trends continue, this generation may not live as long as their parents.

Research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension shows that hospital visits for children with high blood pressure doubled between 1996 and 2006. University of Michigan in Ann Arbor researchers looked at hypertension-related health care statistics for U.S. children up to ages 18 or 20 years old over that 10-year period. They found that more than 24,000 kids headed in for treatment during the last year of the study, compared to some 12,000 the first year.

The study’s findings are no surprise to Justin Zachariah MD, MPH, assistant in Cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital, who says that “kids arebecoming more vulnerable to cardiovascular risk factors and diseases traditionally ascribed to adulthood.” In fact, he says, other recent studies “are now showing that elevated blood pressure in adolescence and childhood predict early mortality before 55 years old and long-term incidence of cardiovascular

Justin Zachariah, MD, MPH

The Hypertension study and related reports are valuable, according to Zachariah, because “attention to pediatric hypertension and other risks for adult hypertension can prevent an avalanche of cardiovascular disease in the future.”

The high cost of treating pediatric hypertension is another disturbing finding of the Hypertension report. According to the study, there were 71,282 pediatric hypertension-related hospitalizations from 1996 to 2006. Inpatient care for those cases cost a total of $3.1 billion. The study also found that kids with high blood pressure stay in the hospital for eight days, on average. Children without high blood pressure stay only about four days.

“The increasing cost of medical care is a huge problem that goes well beyond pediatric hypertension,” Zachariah says. “But when the cost issue is attached to a health issue as widespread as hypertension, then the economic pressures become even more acute.”

At Boston Children’s, the preventive cardiology and nephrology teams are collectively taking steps to screen kids for high blood pressure and educate patients and their parents about the condition. Zachariah says that clinical assistants, nurses and other clinicians are also receiving refresher training in the proper techniques for blood pressure measurement.

Boston Children’s preventive cardiology and nephrology teams are taking steps to screen kids for high blood pressure and educate patients and their parents about the condition.

In addition, Zachariah reports, the hospital is developing a Standardized Clinical Assessment and Management Plan for Hypertension. Zachariah says this plan will “streamline clinical recognition and management of true hypertension.”

Although pediatric hypertension and its consequences are a growing problem, Boston Children’s is working hard to make sure that high blood pressure is recognized early, measured accurately and treated before it causes stroke and heart disease.

“We have the tools to turn back the rising tide.” says Zachariah, “With increasing awareness from patients, families and other providers, we will succeed.”

Are you worried about your child’s heart health? If so, here are some great tips to help children lower blood pressure and cholesterol, from Boston Children’s Preventive Cardiology Program. For more information please read about Boston Children’s Healthy Heart Treatment Plan, or request an appointment with one of our cardiac experts.

  • Msaball

    What is the underlying cause of children with hypertension?

    • Justin Zachariah

      Conditions of the kidney, blood vessels, prematurity, autoimmune conditions, and medication side effects can cause hypertension. But most clinicians believe hypertension is currently increasing in kids because of dysfunctional diet and activity.