DENVER, Colo. — Children who have a first elevated blood pressure at the doctor’s office are not likely to receive the recommended follow-up blood-pressure readings within a month, according to a study published in Pediatrics. However, when the blood-pressure reading was later repeated, most children’s blood pressure returned to normal for their age, sex and height.
Authors of the study examined the electronic health records of 72,625 children and adolescents ages 3 to 17 over a three-year period at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado and Northern California, and HealthPartners of Minnesota who received blood-pressure checks as part of their routine clinical care. While 8.4 percent of children in the study had at least one visit with elevated blood pressure, only 20.9 percent of those children received another blood-pressure screening within a month. Of those with one elevated blood-pressure reading, only 1.4 percent went on to develop childhood hypertension, defined as three consecutive high blood-pressure readings on three separate days.
“Diagnosing hypertension during childhood is difficult because normal blood pressure for children changes as they age. It’s fairly common for children to have a single elevated blood-pressure reading, but when their doctors repeat the test, it appears that most children won’t actually have hypertension,” said Matthew F. Daley, MD, a researcher at the Institute for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “This tells us that parents should have their children’s blood pressure checked and, if it’s high, rechecked at the same visit.”
The researchers also found that factors such as obesity (which is associated with hypertension) or stage 2 hypertension did not significantly affect whether children received follow-up blood-pressure checks within a month of a first elevated blood pressure.
Hypertension is a chronic medical condition characterized by elevated blood pressure in the circulatory system, which forces the heart to work harder than normal to circulate blood throughout the body. Children’s blood pressure can be quite variable, and excitement and nervousness at the doctor’s office can result in elevated blood-pressure readings for children, according to the authors, so children and adolescents are only diagnosed as hypertensive after three consecutive readings that are at or above the 95th percentile for their age, sex and height.
Screening for hypertension in children and adolescents who don’t exhibit symptoms occurs during routine clinical care, but little is known about patterns of care after a first elevated blood-pressure reading. Guidelines from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommend repeating the blood-pressure test one to two weeks after the first elevated blood-pressure reading.
“High blood pressure during childhood can lead to high blood pressure in adulthood,” said Dr. Daley. “And adult cardiovascular disease — including coronary artery disease and strokes — can have its origin in childhood, so diagnosing and controlling hypertension in children is important for their health later in life.”
Kaiser Permanente can conduct transformational health research like this in part because it has the largest private patient-centered electronic health record system in the world. The organization’s electronic health record system, Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect®, securely connects 9.1 million patients to 17,000 physicians in 611 medical offices and 37 hospitals. It also connects Kaiser Permanente’s research scientists to one of the most extensive collections of longitudinal medical data available, facilitating studies and important medical discoveries that shape the future of health care delivery for patients and the medical community.
The findings are part of Kaiser Permanente’s ongoing child health research. Earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente published a study linking childhood obesity with exposure to the chemical BPA. And in January, Kaiser Permanente published findings showing that high blood pressure in children is less common than previously thought.
The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
Other authors of the paper include: Alan R. Sinaiko, MD, University of Minnesota; Liza M. Reifler, MPH, Heather M. Tavel, BS, and Jason M. Glanz, PhD, Kaiser Permanente Colorado; Karen L. Margolis, MD, MPH, Emily Parker, PhD, and Nicole K. Trower, HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research; Malini Chandra, MS, MBA, Kaiser Permanente Northern California; Nancy E. Sherwood, PhD, Kenneth Adams, PhD, and Elyse O. Kharbanda, MD, MPH, HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research; Louise C. Greenspan, MD, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center; Joan C. Lo, MD, Kaiser Permanente Northern California; Patrick J. O’Connor, MD, MPH, HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research; David J. Magid, MD, MPH, Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
About the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research:
The Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research (IHR) publishes and disseminates epidemiologic, behavioral, and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and the communities it serves. The organization has a specific focus on conducting research that can be translated into clinical practice, health promotion, and policies to influence the health of individuals and populations. Currently, the IHR’s staff of over 120 is working on more than 160 epidemiological, clinical, behavioral, community, and health services research projects. Now in its 20th year of operation, the IHR is responsible for many landmark findings. Among the most notable are recent studies about vaccine safety and vaccine refusal, home blood pressure monitoring and research that identified life-saving practices for heart attack patients in the emergency room. Teams of investigators collaborate on major research projects with national partners including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccine Safety Datalink, the HMO Research Network, and the NIH Cardiovascular Research Network and the Cancer Research Network. Learn more at http://kpco-ihr.org.
About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 9.1 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/newscenter.