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New federal guidelines call for health care providers to check children's blood pressure (BP) regularly-starting when they're toddlers. Health care providers should start checking children for high BP at age 3 during routine office visits.


The guidelines, from the National High Blood Pressure Education Program, are a response to the growing number of American children who are overweight. Nationwide health statistics gathered in the 1990s show that children's BP has increased slightly but significantly in a decade: The average systolic pressure has risen from 105 to 106 mm Hg, and average diastolic pressure has risen from 58 to 62 mm Hg.


Any patient with readings above the 95th percentile is considered to have hypertension. Under the new guidelines, children whose readings fall between the 90th and 95th percentiles are now considered to have prehypertension. Earlier guidelines called this category "high normal."

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The new guidelines were released in May at a meeting of the American Society of Hypertension and appear in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics. To view them online, visit http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/nhbpep.htm.