WEDNESDAY, Dec. 7, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- More than half of children admitted to the pediatric emergency department at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center in Florida have high blood pressure, a new study says.
Researchers said they're not entirely sure what to make of the findings. Kids' blood pressure may go up temporarily because they're scared or upset, said study co-author Dr. Phyllis Hendry, an associate professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville, in a university news release.
But high blood pressure in children can be a sign of kidney or other health problems. Doctors need to carefully evaluate blood pressure readings and possibly conduct further tests to determine if there is a serious problem, Hendry said.
Parents should also follow up with their pediatrician to make sure the child's blood pressure returns to normal after they go home.
Researchers analyzed the medical charts of nearly 1,000 patients 18 years and younger admitted to Shands -- an urban hospital -- over 13 months in 2007 and 2008. They expected about 100 patients to have elevated blood pressure upon arrival at the emergency department, but more than 500 did so. More than 20 percent of the children had severely elevated blood pressure levels.
The researchers also found that high blood pressure was recognized on the medical record in just a small percentage of cases.
"In adult emergency patients, we are very focused on blood pressure, and abnormal values are clearly defined," Hendry said in the news release. "In children, it's easy to dismiss a high value because often they are anxious, crying or in pain. There are a number of things that can affect blood pressure."
She noted that 5 percent of American youth have high blood pressure today, compared with 1 percent in the 1970s and 1980s, and that emergency departments can play a larger role in flagging potential blood pressure issues.
The study was recently published in the journal Pediatric Emergency Care.
The Nemours Foundation has more about high blood pressure in children.