The measurement of blood pressure and the detection of hypertension in children and adolescents

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Despite the publication of several expert committee guidelines for the measurement of blood pressure (BP) and the diagnosis of hypertension in children and adolescents, it was our perception and clinical experience that there still appeared to be a general lack of standardisation of BP measurement techniques and little consensus on the criteria for diagnosing hypertension. To investigate this further, we have conducted a postal survey of consultant-grade paediatricians who were members of the British Paediatric Association (BPA). A total of 1500 questionnaires were sent out and 708 analysable replies were received (47.1%). This showed that 68.6% of paediatricians routinely measured BP, at least on one occasion, in children or adolescents attending their outpatient clinics, 17.7% started at or soon after birth, 12.3% started at the age of 1 year, 20.0% at 3 years, 12.0% from 7 years of age and 3.5% from the age of 13. Only 60.5% reported that they had a choice of four or more different cuff sizes in their clinic. Forty-one percent of respondents reported that the BP was always or sometimes measured by nurses. Fifty-one percent of respondents measured diastolic BP at the phase of muffling of sound (Korotkoff phase IV), 31.9% used the disappearance of sound (phase V) whilst 15.9% claimed that they measured both end-points. The criteria for diagnosing a child as being hypertensive varied greatly; 17.9% reported that they responded to the systolic BP alone, 13.5% to the diastolic BP alone, 65.9% relied on both pressures, and 2.7% responded to either the systolic or diastolic pressure if it was raised. Furthermore, 12.9% diagnosed hypertension if the BP exceeded the 90th percentile in relation to age and 41.8% used the 95th percentile. However 45.3% of respondents employed a higher dividing line. In hospitalised children, leg blood pressures were measured routinely by 30.3%, although a further 44.0% would do so if aortic coarctation or other vascular diseases were suspected. Despite considerable variation in clinical practice, techniques and criteria, only 11.4% of clinicians would manage the patients themselves, with the remainder referring the child on to the appropriate specialist. The survey suggests a general lack of standardisation of BP measurement techniques and little consensus on the criteria for diagnosing hypertension amongst paediatricians. Simplified, shortened and updated guidelines on hypertension in paediatric practice and research are needed.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-423
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Human Hypertension
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2001


  • blood pressure, hypertension, children