Blood pressure connected to eye health in young children

June 30, 2020
Medical Check up
Medical Check up

DO young children have high blood pressure?

According to a new study, young children with narrow retinal artery diameters were more likely to develop higher blood pressure, and children with higher blood pressure levels were more likely to develop retinal microvascular impairment during early childhood.

The study conducted by scientists at the University of Basel in Switzerland was the first study to show the connection of high blood pressure in children.

Though hypertension can be said an adult cardiovascular disease (CVD), health experts believe that it can manifest as early as childhood, and the prevalence of high blood pressure among children continues to rise.

In the study which appeared in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal, researchers sought to predict the development of high blood pressure in children over four years based on retinal blood vessel measurements.

"Primary prevention strategies are needed to focus on screening retinal microvascular health and blood pressure in young children in order to identify those at increased risk of developing hypertension. The earlier we can provide treatment and implement lifestyle changes to reduce hypertension, the greater the benefit for these children," said study lead author Dr. Henner Hanssen.

Researchers screened 262 children ages six to eight from 26 schools in Basel, Switzerland, in 2014, for baseline blood pressure and retinal arterial measurements. Both measures were taken again in 2018.

Here are the results:

* children with narrower retinal vessel diameters at baseline developed higher systolic blood pressure at follow-up;

* retinal vessel diameters could explain 29 -31 percent of the changes in systolic blood pressure progression between 2014 and 2018;

* children with higher blood pressure levels at baseline developed significantly narrower arteriolar diameters at follow-up, depending on weight and cardiorespiratory fitness; and

* initial blood pressure measures explained 66-69 percent of the change in retinal arteriolar diameter from baseline to follow-up.

According to Hanssen, early childhood assessments of retinal microvascular health and blood pressure monitoring can improve cardiovascular risk classification. Timely primary prevention strategies for children at risk of developing hypertension could potentially counteract its growing burden among both children and adults.

Researchers noted limitations of their study include that they could not confirm blood pressure measurements over a single 24-hour period, so they would not account for "white coat" hypertension, a condition where patients have high blood pressure readings when measured in a medical setting.

Developmental stage including puberty status of each child was not accounted for in the study, as well as genetic factors or birth weight -- variables that could impact blood pressure development and microvascular health. In addition, reference values for appropriate retinal vessel diameters in children do not currently exist, so future studies are needed to determine age-related normal values during childhood. (American Heart Association)