African American children are hit hard by hypertension



Bio | Email

Posted on January 8, 2011 at 2:36 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 11 at 11:17 AM

Hypertension, or persistent high blood pressure kills millions of adults every year. But studies show, there's been a five-fold increase of the condition in children in the past 30 years.

"I was in school and I had passed out in the hallway," recalled 17-year-old Jessica Corser when asked about her hypertension.

Eleven year old Cameron Casalena remembered subtle changes.

"I didn't feel bad. I was just all hyper kinda," he said.

Luckily for both children, their hypertension was diagnosed. But it's missed too often.

"Three quarters of kids with high blood pressure seen in doctor's offices don't have that condition appropriately identified and acted upon," said Dr. Joseph Flynn. The University of Washington professor of pediatrics, is also director of the Pediatric Hypertension Program at Seattle Children's.

He said high blood pressure is called the silent killer because it has no clear warning signs. Genetics, family history, and obesity, are some of the reasons kids develop the condition. He said studies show the condition can damage a child's kidneys and eyes, and harm brain function.

Diagnosing it requires repeated screenings that compare a child's blood pressure to an average range.

"It's based on their age, their gender and their height," said Dr. Flynn.

He recently completed a study of children who had already been diagnosed with hypertension, and found it affected one group more profoundly. The study was published in the November issue of Pediatrics.

"The African American children had higher blood pressures than the non African American children. So that was an unexpected finding," he said.

African American kids were also more prone to dangerous thickening of the heart muscle that develops in four out of ten kids with hypertension.  African American children under 13 years of age were more than twice as likely to suffer the heart damage.  

"Kids that have this thickening of the heart muscle should have more attention paid to treatment and blood pressure control." he said.

Treatment worked for Cameron. His blood pressure is now 126 over 67. It's quite a difference from his high of 168 over 100.

Today Cameron and Jessica control their blood pressure with diet, medications and a healthy lifestyle. The combination can reverse heart damage. It's giving the children a chance for a healthier life.