Diana Garcia has always been a healthy, active kid, big into volleyball and gymnastics. But last Summer, the now 13-year old ended up in pediatric cardiologist Dr. Eduardo Montana's office with a problem no one saw coming. Out of nowhere she was being hit by severe headaches.
"I was just sitting in class, and it just started hurting really bad," says Diana Garcia.
"She came with some very high blood pressure, headaches, and she was a healthy, thin young lady, otherwise normally healthy," says Dr. Eduardo Montana.
Diana's pediatrician spotted high blood pressure during a checkup --150/100. Her parents tried cutting back on salt - increasing her exercise,but her blood pressure wouldn't budge.
So, they came to see Dr. Montana, who ordered an ultrasound to look at her kidneys. He found one was underdeveloped, and probably had been since birth. It was driving the spikes in her blood pressure.
“It was really a surprise. It was not easy. We never expected my daughter to have that problem,” says Roberto Garcia, Diana's dad.
“She went to children's healthcare and had the kidney removed. Afterwards, she did remarkably well, came off her medications. I've seen her recently in the office, and she's done really well,” says the doctor.
Dr. Montana says Diana's particular case is pretty rare, but the problem of high blood pressure in children and teens is not.
With American kids growing heavier, and more sedentary, it's now estimated 5 to 7% of U.S. children struggle with hypertension; a problem that used to be considered an adult disease.
Dr. Montana says the problem hits minority children - like African Americans and Latinos especially hard.
"I try to get to the root cause. And everyone is different. And some people, it is just a matter of weight control. But there are some normal-weight children and adolescents that just have a very poor diet, or poor exercise habits, or a very strong family history,” says Dr.Montana.
Blood pressure matters because kids with unregulated hypertension are at higher risk of developing a dangerous thickening of the heart muscle. Kids with heart disease may face a lifelong struggle.
And while Montana says lifestyle is a driving factor, other things can raise a child's blood pressure, like non-cancerous kidney tumors, lung problems and even a strep infection that goes treated.
"If your child or adolescent is consistently being told they have high blood pressure, and you know that child is healthy, of a good weight, has a good diet that you can monitor carefully, it's low in salt, if he gets adequate physical activity, then he should definitely be asking the question, ‘Well, why is my child hypertensive? Should we be looking at other things?”