Ask The Experts
Q: My 11-year-old son had his annual exam and the doctor said his blood pressure is in the pre-hypertensive range and wants us to come back in three months for another reading. Is it safe for him to participate in football this fall?
A: High blood pressure is becoming increasingly more common in our young athletes; so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines specifically examining this very topic. From a practical standpoint, I would absolutely go back to your health care provider before having your son cleared to play football so that another measurement can be taken.
The decision to allow your child to safely play sports is a complex one that takes into account the severity of the blood pressure, age/weight, medical and family history, any symptoms (i.e. chest pain, shortness of breath) and the specific sport.
Based on your son’s actual blood pressure measurement, he can be grouped into one of three categories: pre-hypertension, stage 1 hypertension and stage 2 hypertension based not only on the actual blood pressure measurement, but also where he falls in relation to other children of similar sex, age and height. If he falls into the pre-hypertensive group and is not having symptoms, then it generally does not restrict his participation in competitive athletics, but does require blood pressure checks every six months.
Even for children who may fall into the stage 1 and stage 2 groups, athletic participation is still encouraged to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This can occur once a pediatric sub-specialist performs an additional work-up and the blood pressure is under control.
In general, athletic activity is a critical component of a healthy lifestyle and can aid in keeping blood pressure low. If your child does fall into a category in which his/her blood pressure is a concern, it does not mean the end of safe athletic participation. For the vast majority of young athletes, it simply means monitoring their blood pressure more closely than before.
Dr. Nirav K. Pandya is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and director of the Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes at the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland (Calif.). He received his medical degree from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine (Ill.). He is a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America. Learn more about the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland at http://www.childrenshospitaloakland.org.
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