Robert Okosky, 17, was surprised earlier this year when a routine test revealed he had developed a condition that typically strikes adults.
Like a rising number of children and teenagers, the Fonda-Fultonville High School senior was diagnosed with high blood pressure, which can have serious implications for both children and adults.
“Hypertension among children and teens is up more than 27 percent in the last 13 years,” said pediatric nephrologist James A. Listman, MD. He leads Albany Med’s newly developed pediatric hypertension program, the only one of its kind in the area. “Also because pediatric hypertension is not on people’s radar, I’m sure there are a lot more kids out there who are undiagnosed.”
While genetics plays a role, Dr. Listman said the increase in hypertension is mostly linked to lifestyle, indicating that just as in adults, obesity, binge eating of high sodium foods, too much caffeine and not enough exercise are major factors.
Left untreated, hypertension can cause hardening of the arteries, heart disease or failure, or stroke as well as serious kidney and eyesight issues. Its effects build up over time, so Dr. Listman said it is alarming when it starts at a young age.
While medication is part of the treatment plan, Dr. Listman says he encourages a whole lifestyle approach for his young patients.
“The biggest impact in management of hypertension can happen at home,” Dr. Listman said. “For instance, I tell families that fresh is always best when it comes to food.”
Since he’s been seeing Dr. Listman, Okosky’s blood pressure has come down to a near normal level. Because children are growing, there are many variables in determining a standard of normal.
“There are so many ways to bring it down,” said Okosky, who admitted that despite being a four-sport varsity athlete, his eating habits used to be suspect. “Exercise, diet, medication — we just incorporated them all. The program is really making me realize what I have to do to stay healthy.”