It doesn’t seem fair to add another challenge to the list of those between twelve and twenty, but a new threat is on the horizon. There has been a five-fold jump in the number of teenagers with hypertension, or high blood pressure. The problem lies with finding suitable treatments for a still developing body. Below are some of the risk factors, diagnosis information and treatment options.
Diet: Some foods and favorite beverages of teens are major contributors to blood pressure problems. Fat, cholesterol and sodium are keys in the list. Studies indicate that young people can have enough plaque buildup to narrow arteries and increase pressure.
Caffeine is another enemy on the hypertension list. Because it triggers “fight or flight” hormones, pressure numbers start climbing. The more caffeine consumed, the higher it goes.
Exercise: None of us seem to be getting enough of it. Teens spend hours staring at computer screens in school. When they come home, they then stare at computer screens, tv screens and even cell phone screens. This leaves little time for physical activity.
Heredity: Cholesterol, one of the substances that blocks arteries, is also created by your body. In fact, you can’t properly digest your food without some of the substance. Some people naturally produce more than others. That means that even if you follow all the rules, you’re still wide open for high blood pressure.
Hormones: The teen years are fraught with hormones, especially estrogen and testosterone. Links have been found between pressure numbers and the amount of hormones produced. More work needs to be done in this area to discover why and see if there is a solution to the problem.
Weight: If diet and exercise are involved weight is also likely an issue. This is a key risk factor and one that should be brought up with your child’s pediatrician.
With adults, it’s very simple. The nurse hooks up a blood pressure cuff and pretty soon you have the numbers. Anything over 140/90 means high blood pressure. That’s not the same method of calculation needed for teens.
This is done bypercentile, largely like the height and weight percentiles used on infants and toddlers to monitor growth factors. In fact, they use that very chart as part of figuring out where your child fits and whether or not the blood pressure is too high. Numbers under 90% are considered normal, but anything 95% or higher may indicate hypertension. Repeated readings need to be done to make sure this is the case, before treatment is offered.
Lifestyle changes are likely to figure into this equation. This may be particularly true if the teen drinks a lot of high caffeine, sugary energy drinks. Getting exercise and losing weight are probably going to be recommended, especially if your teen is overweight.
One surprising finding involves a drug used to treat gout. Some kids have naturally high levels of uric acid, which can lead to higher pressure. Allopurinol may be the answer in some cases. Bear in mind that this is still mostly at the study phase so it may be a while before it’s available.
If you work with your doctor and your teen, you can prevent this problem or stop it from doing damage to the organs. That will help you work out a treatment plan that a teenager will actually cooperate with.