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High Blood Pressure and Learning Disabilities

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Children who have high blood pressure are four times more likely to have learning disabilities than children with normal readings, according to a study.

U.S researchers said while it was well known that hypertension could increase the risk of heart disease, their study suggested it could also affect mental development in the young.

Dr Heater Adams, of University of Rochester Medical Center, said: “this study found that children with hypertension are more likely to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Although retrospective, this work adds to the growing evidence of an association between hypertension and cognitive function.”

Around four per cent of children in the U.S are now estimated to have high blood pressure.

There isn’t a defined series of measurements for blood pressure in children. A U.S working group said children with high blood pressure had readings that were higher than 95 per cent of their peers who were the same age, height and weight.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at 201 patients aged between 10 and 18-years-old who had been referred to the hypertension clinic at URMC’s Children’s Hospital. They found 101 had hypertension, or sustained high blood pressure. Of these, 28 per cent had learning disabilities, well above the general population’s rate of five per cent.

According to KidsHeakth.org, an estimated 3% of kids have high blood pressure. In babies, it’s usually caused by pre-maturity or problems with the kidneys or heart. While hypertension is far more common among adults, the rate among kids is on the rise, a trend that experts link to the increase in childhood obesity.

Many kids and teens with high blood pressure have no other health problems but do have a family history of hypertension and an unhealthy lifestyle — a bad diet, excess weight, stress, and insufficient physical activity.

If it goes untreated, high blood pressure can eventually lead to damage to the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. But if it’s caught early, monitored, and treated, a child with high blood pressure can lead an active, normal life.

Previous studies excluded children with ADHD because medications can increase blood pressure.

However, researchers from the URMC study included them this time because it is also possible that the higher rate of ADHD among children with hypertension is a reflection of mental development problems caused by hypertension.

They found even when ADHD was factored out of the analyses; there was still a higher rate of learning disabilities in the hypertensive, compared to the non-hypertensive group of children.

Dr Lande said: “with each study, we’re getting closer to understanding the relationship between hypertension and cognitive function in children.”

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