High blood pressure linked to learning problems

Blood pressureIn the last week or so, we've reported on the possible impact of fluorescent lighting, sleep problems, and stress related to racial stereotypes on school achievement. Research has also linked high blood pressure in children to learning problems. Dr. Marc Lande, a pediatric nephrologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has spent years researching the impact of high blood pressure on children. In a study published in the December 2003 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, Lande found that hypertensive children had more difficulty in several areas than those with normal blood pressure; visual analytical skills, working memory, and mathematics were affected. In an interview posted at Psych Central, Lande reported that more recent research found that children with high blood pressure had more trouble with the symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder than those who were not hypertensive. Note that, in general, the drop in test scores for hypertensive children was small, but mathematically significant. Lande isn't the only researcher to find links between blood pressure and learning problems. In 2006, a study by Ditto and his colleagues in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine examined the cognitive abilities of students who were at risk for high blood pressure by virtue of having hypertensive parents. They found that even boys with smaller blood pressure elevations had more trouble on tasks measuring verbal and spatial learning, as well as memory.

More research is needed to clarify the link between high blood pressure and learning; the studies described above are correlational, and I wasn't able to find any research that followed hypertensive children over time. Although kidshealth.org reports that only about 3% of kids have high blood pressure, the long-term impact can include damage to organs, including the heart, liver, and kidneys. Luckily, lifestyle changes can have an impact, since doctors are (rightly) cautious about prescribing medication to treat hypertension in young children. Daily cardiovascular exercise is often suggested, although it's probably best to check with your physician before your start your hypertensive child on an exercise program. Reducing salt and increasing fruits and vegetables in your child's diet may also be helpful.

You can read more here and here (full article PDF).

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