Blood pressure is the pressure the blood forces against the blood vessel walls as the heart pumps. When someone has high blood pressure, the heart and arteries have a much heavier workload. The heart must pump harder and the arteries are under greater strain as they carry blood.
Having high blood pressure puts someone at a higher risk for stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, loss of vision, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
There are two types of high blood pressure, or hypertension:
Secondary hypertension has a known cause, such as kidney disease, heart disease, or certain medications. Most young kids with high blood pressure have secondary hypertension.
Primary hypertension has no identifiable cause and is the most common cause of high blood pressure in older kids and adults. When school-age kids and teens have primary hypertension, it's usually linked to excess weight.
Treatment for primary hypertension usually begins with lifestyle changes, including weight loss, regular exercise, reducing salt intake, and avoiding alcohol. If lifestyle changes alone aren't enough, a doctor may recommend medications to lower blood pressure. This type of treatment is usually reserved for severe cases of hypertension or those that cause symptoms such as headaches or seizures.
Keep in Mind
Untreated high blood pressure can eventually damage the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. But if it's caught early, monitored, and treated, those who have it can lead active, normal lives.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.