High Blood Pressure Rising In Teens

By Amir Khan on June 20, 2012 10:17 AM EDT

Blood Pressure
The number of children and teens admitted to the hospital with high blood pressure has risen sharply in the recent decade (Photo: Creative Commons)

The number of children and teens admitted to the hospital with high blood pressure has risen sharply in the recent decade, according to a new study, published in the journal Hypertension on Tuesday.  The trend is setting these kids up for serious health problems in the future, researchers said.

In 1997, 12,661 children and teens were admitted to hospitals with hypertension. BY 2006, that number more than doubled to 24,602. The cost of hospitalizations over that span totaled $3.1 billion.

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"There have been some published studies that have demonstrated an increase in frequency of hypertension among kids in the outpatient settings in the clinics," Dr. Cheryl Tran, study author and fellow in the Department of Pediatric Nephrology at the University of Michigan, told CNN. "In our study, we found we also are seeing this trend in the inpatient setting. It definitely was surprising- we may be seeing a reflection of that from the rise in hypertension from the outpatient setting, but I think what was also alarming was the economic burden created by the inpatient pediatric hypertension."

Obesity is a major contributor to hypertension, and as obesity increases, the number of children and adults with the disease will increase as well. More than 12.5 million American children ages 2 through 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the number of obese children has tripled since 1980. Health care costs related to childhood obesity totaled $3 billion in 2009, according to a study published in Nature.

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, cardiologist and the director of women and heart disease of the Heart and Vascular Institute of Lenox Hill Hospital, told WebMD that the findings are alarming.

"This could be a huge wake-up call. When I read an article like this, I feel like standing on the buildings in New York City and screaming," she said. "Children are getting sicker and sicker as they're getting more obese. There's going to be a huge increase in heart disease and health care costs because of this."

Hypertension has few symptoms, but if left untreated, could cause a host of medical problems. High blood pressure can lead to stroke, blindness, memory problems and heart failure. Risk factors include family history, age, race, and poor diet.

Exercise and eating healthier are imperative to curb the trend, researchers said.

"Increasingly, these are children with essential hypertension- this is consequence of the epidemic of obesity and diabetes that is found increasingly in teenagers and younger children," Dr. Ernesto Schiffrin, spokesman for the American Heart Association, told CNN. "If we are going to prevent adult hypertension, we have to start at this early age by avoiding obesity, cutting back on salt and exercising- otherwise this will increase further the prevalence of adult hypertension and the huge costs that will occur accordingly."

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