Determining what are normal blood pressure readings in children is a bit more complicated than for adults.
What Does Blood Pressure Measure
When a doctor or nurse takes a blood pressure reading, he or she is getting a measurement of how hard blood is pushing against the walls of the body's blood vessels. An indication of the blood pressure being elevated indicates that the patient is at risk for a number of health issues.
How a Blood Pressure Reading is Taken
A blood pressure reading is taken using a cuff that wraps around the upper arm. When the sphygmomanometer is pumped up, it fits tight enough to stop the blood from flowing through a large artery in the arm. The doctor or nurse lets the air out of the cuff gradually, which allows the blood to flow through the artery again.
A stethoscope is used to listen to the sounds that the heart makes at the peak of each heartbeat (the systolic pressure) and the pressure when it rests in between (the diastolic pressure). In a normal blood pressure reading for an adult of 120/80, the top number refers to the systolic pressure and the bottom one is a measurement of the diastolic pressure.
Ranges of Normal Blood Pressure Readings in Children
The is no one number that is used to determine normal blood pressure readings in children. Instead, what is considered "normal" varies depending on the age of the child. For an infant, a blood pressure reading of between 70 and 90 for systolic pressure is considered normal. By the time a child becomes a teenager, a normal blood pressure reading is close to that of an adult.
High Blood Pressure in Children
High blood pressure isn't something that only affects middle-aged adults who are overweight or who don't get enough exercise. Approximately three percent of children also have high blood pressure. This condition doesn't present any symptoms, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the "silent killer."
High blood pressure means that the heart must work harder to provide the cells in the body with the blood that they need to work properly. If a person has high blood pressure for a long time, the arteries become affected, and the brain and kidneys may not receive the level of oxygenated blood that they need.
A child who has high blood pressure should be carefully monitored by a physician, since having this condition means that the patient is at risk for a number of health issues, including:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
High blood pressure in children is defined as being over 95th percentile for children of the same age, gender and height. To see a blood pressure chart for children, please visit the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. It is available in PDF format (Acrobat Reader required to view).
Before a doctor can diagnose a case of high blood pressure in a child, he or she will need to take readings on several occasions. There are many reasons why a child's blood pressure may be elevated on a single occasion that don't indicate a problem with hypertension. If the blood pressure remains elevated over a number of days of weeks, then the doctor can make recommendations for treating this condition.
The first time the doctor takes a reading, it may be high because the child is nervous. For that reason, the doctor will take several of them and average out the numbers to get an idea of what the normal blood pressure reading for the child is. Another option is to outfit the child with an ambulatory blood pressure cuff that he or she would wear all day. The data collected in this way may be more accurate than taking a reading in the doctor's office.
Finally, if you have any questions or concerns regarding normal blood pressure readings in children, contact your child's pediatrician.