High blood pressure (hypertension) is an increase in the force of blood against the arteries in the body. This article focuses on high blood pressure in infants.
Blood pressure measures how hard the heart is working, and how healthy the arteries are. There are two numbers in each blood pressure measurement:
- The first (top) number is the systolic blood pressure, which measures the force of blood released when the heart beats.
- The second (bottom) number is the diastolic pressure, which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest.
Blood pressure measurements are written this way: 120/80. One or both of these numbers can be too high.
Several factors affect blood pressure, including:
- The health of the heart and blood vessels
- The health of the kidneys
High blood pressure in infants may be due to kidney or heart disease that is present at birth (congenital). Common examples include:
In newborn babies, high blood pressure is often caused by a blood clot in a kidney blood vessel, a complication of having an umbilical catheter.
Other causes of high blood pressure in infants may include:
- Certain medicines
- Exposure to illegal drugs such as cocaine
- Certain tumors
- Inherited conditions (problems that run in families)
- Thyroid problems
Blood pressure rises as the baby grows. The average blood pressure in a newborn is 64/41. The average blood pressure in a child ages 1 month - 2 years is 95/58. Some variations in these numbers are normal and are not cause for concern.
Most babies with high blood pressure will not have symptoms. Instead, symptoms may be related to the condition causing the high blood pressure. These symptoms may include:
- Bluish skin
- Failure to grow and gain weight
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Pale skin (pallor)
- Rapid breathing
Symptoms may appear if the baby has very high blood pressure. These symptoms include:
- Trouble breathing
Exams and Tests
In most cases, the only sign of high blood pressure is the blood pressure measurement itself.
Signs of very high blood pressure include:
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Rapid pulse
Blood pressure in infants is measured with an automatic device.
Other tests in infants with high blood pressure will try to find the cause of the problem. Such tests may include:
- A special type of x-ray that uses a dye to look at blood vessels (angiography)
- Laboratory tests, including blood and urine tests
- X-rays of the chest or abdomen
- Ultrasounds, including an ultrasound of the working heart (echocardiogram) and of the kidneys
- Using magnets to create images of the heart and blood vessels (MRI)
The treatment depends on the cause of high blood pressure in the infant. Treatment can include:
- Surgery (including transplantation surgery or repair of the coarctation)
How well the baby does depends on the cause of high blood pressure.
Other factors that may affect how well the baby with high blood pressure does include:
- The presence of other health problems in the baby
- Whether any damage (such as kidney damage) has occurred as a result of the high blood pressure
- Heart or kidney failure
- Organ damage
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if your baby:
- Fails to grow and gain weight
- Has bluish skin
- Has frequent urinary tract infections
- Seems irritable
- Tires easily
Take your baby to the emergency department if your baby:
- Has seizures
- Is not responding
- Is vomiting constantly
There is no way to prevent conditions that cause high blood pressure in infants. However, there are some things you can do that may reduce the baby's risk of developing such problems.
Some causes of high blood pressure run in families. Talk to your health care provider before you get pregnant if you have a family history of:
- Congenital heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
If you have any medical condition and take medicines for it, talk to your health care provider before becoming pregnant. Exposure to certain drugs in the womb may increase your baby's risk of developing problems that can lead to high blood pressure.
Hypertension - infants
National High Blood Pressure Education Program Working Group on High Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents. The fourth report on the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2004;chap 114:555.
Beard L, Neonatology. In: Engorn B, Flerlage J, eds. Johns Hopkins: The Harriet Lane Handbook: A Manual for Pediatric House Officers. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 18.
Lande MB. Systemic hypertension. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 439.
Update Date 5/14/2014
Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.