Reasons for High Blood Pressure in Young Adults

By Erica Loop
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High blood pressure doesn’t just affect older people. Even though your teen is only a young adult, it’s possible she can develop this condition. High blood pressure often has no obvious symptoms. It’s possible for your teen to have this condition without even knowing it. But sometimes high blood pressure can cause physical signs such as headaches, vision changes, nausea, dizziness and nose bleeds.

Normal Values

Age, sex and height are some factors contributing to what your teen’s normal blood pressure should be. There are a range of blood pressures that may be normal for your child, depending on his age and height percentile. For example, a 17-year-old boy who is in the 75th percentile for height and has a blood pressure of 120/68 is in the 50th percentile for blood pressure, which is excellent. When your teen has a blood pressure reading in the 95th percentile or higher, he has hypertension.

The precise number is different for another young adult who has a different height or is a different age. To make an accurate diagnosis, your teen’s doctor should take his blood pressure during at least three different office visits.

If your teen is 18 or older, a normal blood pressure value is the same as it would be for an adult. Adult hypertension is 140/90 or higher.

Lifestyle Factors

There are two types of high blood pressure classifications: primary and secondary. Primary hypertension doesn’t have a specific cause, but lifestyle factors such as physical fitness and nutrition affect blood pressure. These are often causes of primary hypertension, according to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

If your teen doesn’t exercise or is overweight, she is at risk for developing high blood pressure, for example. Smoking cigarettes also puts young adults at risk for primary hypertension.

Secondary Causes

Secondary hypertension has a medical cause. In adolescents this may include kidney disease, heart disease, hormonal disorders or the use of medications. Prescription medications such as birth control pills and steroids can cause high blood pressure in young adults.

Like prescription medications, some illegal drugs can also cause high blood pressure. This includes cocaine and amphetamines.

Family Causes

Genetics play a role in hypertension. If you have high blood pressure or there is a family history of it, your child is more likely to inherit this condition. Your parents may have passed the genes that influence blood pressure down to you, even if you haven't developed the condition.

Along with the genetic link, high blood pressure may run in some families due to the shared environment. Shared lifestyle choices such as poor nutrition or lack of exercise may influence your teen's blood pressure. For example, if the family sits down to fatty dinners every night and prefers watching TV to walking, you and your teen may be at risk for blood pressure problems.

Reasons for a Sudden Rise

It’s normal for blood pressure to change throughout the day or under some circumstances. Your teen’s blood pressure may rise during intense physical activity, immediately after exercising or when she’s stressed. High readings during these times aren’t the same as true hypertension. Blood pressure that is elevated during exercise or stress typically goes back down to normal levels during rest and relaxation times.

Treating Hypertension

After taking a complete medical history, asking about lifestyle habits, reviewing medications and ordering blood work to test for physical problems, your teen’s doctor designs a treatment plan. If your teen’s high blood pressure is a result of inactivity or being overweight, he may suggest exercising and diet changes before starting medication. Your teen may also need to reduce the amount of salt in his diet, notes the American Academy of Pediatrics on its HealthyChildren.org website.

If diet and lifestyle changes don’t do the trick, your teen may need to take a blood pressure-lowering medication. The type of medicine that he takes depends on his current health and what the doctor feels is best.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.