Children playing on school grounds

Keeping two numbers in mind – one for teens and another for younger children – might help busy pediatricians more easily identify which kids need to actively control their blood pressure, according to an editorial published Monday in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Although pediatricians routinely check blood pressure, the reference tables that provide more guidance are complex, and abnormal blood pressure levels in kids are frequently missed. Using one number as a threshold to separate children with normal blood pressure from those who need some type of treatment would be helpful, authors Bonita Falkner, M.D., and Samuel Gidding, M.D., wrote.

The commentary was published in response to SPRINT – the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial – published last November that found lowering the threshold for a systolic pressure of less than 140 down to 120 reduced the risk of cardiovascular-related deaths by 43 percent.

SPRINT investigators studied people age 50 and older who had high blood pressure and at least one other risk factor for heart disease and stroke. But there could be a takeaway for pediatric prevention because high blood pressure accelerates heart disease, the authors wrote.

Normal blood pressure levels vary based on a child’s age and growth, so high blood pressure is defined differently in childhood and is based on percentile rather than a blood pressure level, said Falkner, director of hypertension and obesity research and professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Optimal blood pressure for adolescents is probably less than 120/80 mm Hg, while under 110/70 mm Hg is probably the right target for children under 12, she said.

If the numbers are higher, the authors advise pediatricians to check the blood pressure tables for more guidance.

“These are easy numbers to remember and could make it easier to identify children and adolescents who could benefit from efforts to modify factors known to increase blood pressure in the young,” Falkner said.

Parents should help their kids control their weight, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, Falkner said.

Research presented at an AHA conference in 2013 found that after factoring in age, gender and weight, adults who had high blood pressure readings during childhood had up to four times the rate of high blood pressure.