Hypertension in Children: A Symptom of a Much Deeper Problem

A recent review of the reasons for children being admitted to emergency rooms found that admissions for high blood pressure doubled between 1997 and 2006. Hypertension accounted for almost 25,000 admissions to the emergency room for pediatric patients in 2006. This is tragic enough, but add to this the finding that up to 30% of kids diagnosed with hypertension already have signs of damage in their blood vessels caused by the condition.

The experts, of course, offer their sage advice regarding this issue. Dr. Joshua Samuels, writing in the journal Hypertension, states the conventional case clearly: “Now is the time to invest in early detection, prevention, and treatment of elevated BP in children.” He goes on to write that there is “an array of pharmacological interventions with pediatric dosing, safety, and often even labeling. If the current study tells us anything, it is that we cannot afford to wait.”

What is most telling is that Dr. Samuels – as well as the authors of the study – believes that the main cause for the increase is the rising tide of obesity in the pediatric population. So the mystery is this: if these doctors believe they know what is causing the increase, and they are working in a profession called “health care,” why are their treatment recommendations not focused on treating the cause of the hypertension? To advocate for the use of medications is simply to accept the inevitability of obesity in kids, and to medically manage the resulting diseases.

The real tragedy is that, as a society, we have come to accept these after-the-fact drug-based proposals, and even to refer to them as “health care.” They aren’t. To medicate children with high blood pressure is to ignore its preventable and treatable underlying causes. That our medical system doesn’t focus there says nothing about the challenge of managing pediatric hypertension. It says volumes, though, about the unwavering commitment of our medical system to profit-generating disease management rather than life-enhancing care for health.