Teen athlete battles high blood pressure.



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Posted on August 23, 2011 at 5:20 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 23 at 10:02 AM

Sixteen year old Arianna Giddings is a top student and star athlete. She was only eleven when she told her mom about sharp chest pains, shortness of breath and dizziness.

"She didn't bring it up at first. She said she had those aches and pains for a couple months," said her mother Robin Giddings.

Her symptoms landed Arianna at the Seattle Children's Hypertension Clinic. It's headed by Pediatrician Dr. Joseph Flynn.

"I don't think that many parents realize that high blood pressure can be seen in children. That it can have bad health effects in children," said Dr. Flynn.

He said an estimated two to three percent of children have hypertension. The causes range from kidney to hormonal to heart problems or genetics. Arianna's was due to a rare gene inherited from her mother.

"I was diagnosed at age 15. So I was always going to be on the lookout for any of my kids getting high blood pressure because it runs in the family," said Robin.

Dr. Flynn said there's another reason hypertension is on the rise in children.

"Very good studies have been done that show that in children who are classified as obese, according to standard definitions, the frequency of hypertension's as high as 10 percent."

Normal blood pressure range changes as kids grow. And hypertension can happen without symptoms. That's why Dr. Flynn said parents should make sure blood pressure is checked each doctor visit.

"It can cause kidney damage. It can affect the eyes and cause damage to the retina, and also can affect brain function," he cautioned.

Medications and low salt diet keep Arianna's hypertension in check. She said athletics are her biggest motivator.

"I was really worried I couldn't do sports," she said.

Her mother and doctor agreed sports are OK as long as friends and school staff know how to respond to symptoms like chest pains and shortness of breath.

"Whenever a kid has these type of complaints or whatever, you're to call 911 first and the parent next, because that's my safety plan," said Robin.

Dr. Flynn said kids' hypertension can often be controlled through exercise, diet changes, and weight loss. The American Academy of Pediatrics has more information on hypertension in kids.