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Children with 'pressure' - Doctors urged to start checking for hypertension in kids

Published:Friday | November 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

Mary Cameron was just 18 years old when a doctor told her that she had high blood pressure. This initial diagnosis was the catalyst for a tsunami of other health complications such as diabetes and kidney-related problems that came later.

"I was going to work one Friday morning, and I go into the bathroom and I come out and brush my teeth and I felt dizzy, and my cousin said to me, 'You know, you better go to the clinic and find out if you have pressure', and I said, 'No, I don't have any pressure', but anyway, I followed her advice and I went out by the clinic by Hagley Park Road, and behold, it was high blood pressure," Cameron told The Sunday Gleaner.

"Back then, I wasn't educated about the pressure, so you just go about your normal duty and do your normal everyday thing," admitted Cameron, who is now 58 years old.

The mother of three eventually gave up smoking and heavy drinking after being warned by doctors. She even changed her diet, started exercising, and lost a lot of weight when it became glaringly obvious that her lifestyle decisions were the basis for her medical problems.


Too late


But these changes didn't come soon enough, and today, she is numbered among the expanding list of Jamaicans who have to depend on drugs to keep her pulse beating and regular visits to the renal clinic to ensure her vital organs can carry out their daily functions.

"If I hadn't changed my eating habits, maybe I would have died already," said Cameron as she waited patiently at one of the Government's Drugserv locations to pick up her monthly supply of medications.

Paediatric nephrologist Dr Maolynne Miller believes that like Cameron, a number of Jamaican teens are living with hypertension and may not know it because they are not checked during their regular doctor's visit, and the 'silent killer' does not have any symptoms.

"The thing is that a lot of times, the general practitioner is not checking blood pressure in children, so you don't know that you have it or not. Actually, it should be part of the general check-up, at least annually, to check the blood pressure," she said.

Miller, who is also chairperson and founder of the Jamaica Kidney Kids Foundation, is currently treating about 20 children with hypertension under 12 years old, but she believes the figure for children over 12 years old living with hypertension is much higher.

"The children who are over 12, the most likely cause is being overweight and a family history of hypertension. It's not usually going to be linked to a kidney issue," said Miller.

The paediatric nephrologist said all of those children she is treating under 12 years old have other medical complications, which would have resulted in hypertension as the condition is generally linked to cardiac, kidney, or hormonal problems in the prepubescent years.

The situation is different for older children, however, as the condition is often linked to lifestyle practices or family history.

Miller believes that children are even more susceptible to hypertension today because of the rise in obesity and the proclivity towards a diet of 'cheese trix' and bag juice.

While it is not known how many Jamaican children are currently living with hypertension, data from the National Health Fund show that there are 290 persons under 18 years old receiving drug subsidies for hypertension.


Check children


Miller has appealed to general practitioners to check children for hypertension during their visits for other medical complications because unlike Cameron, not many will be given a warning sign.

"It is encouraged, but I don't know how many people actually do it because you are going to have to buy special blood pressure cups. Whereas one size fits all for adults, children come in different sizes, and so you are going to have to buy a range of blood pressure cups if you are really going to do this properly, and a lot of doctors don't bother," she said

"There are certain tables that the doctors need to use to check what is considered to be high blood pressure in a child of a certain age. Once you are under 18, you would have to know the child's height and sex, and you would have to look at a chart to know what is considered to be hypertension for that child. It's not like big people, where it is 130/90 or 140/90. That is catastrophic for a child, so they may be hypertensive at something as low as 80/60, depending on the age of a child," she pointed out.