November 1, 2010

Baylor College of Medicine Health Briefs – November 2010

Never too early to screen kids for high blood pressure

Children with high blood pressure may not feel sick or experience serious symptoms like adults, but if the condition goes untreated it could cause serious damage to their overall health later in life, said a pediatric hypertension specialist from Baylor College of Medicine.

"The good news is that we do not see heart attacks and strokes in children as a result of high blood pressure," said Dr. Daniel Feig, associate professor of pediatrics "“ renal at BCM. "The bad news is that the blood pressure will continue to go up and could cause permanent damage to the heart and kidneys. Without intervention childhood hypertension almost always results in hypertension in adulthood."

Beginning at age 3, children should be screened for high blood pressure at their annual check up, Feig said. If it is high, he or she will be asked to return a week later to see if the high readings persist.

If the child has elevated readings in three consecutive visits, he or she should have an evaluation for the cause of hypertension and risk of organ injury.

Diet and exercise modifications are common treatments for high blood pressure, but if this is insufficient, there are a variety of antihypertensive medications that have been tested and proven to be safe in the short- and long- term.

Teach kids to enjoy holiday treats in moderation   

Cookies, chocolates and other treats seem to be within arm's reach from Halloween to the end of year. But according to experts at Baylor College of Medicine, the holidays are no excuse for parents to let kids overeat and divert from their normal eating routine.

"You have to keep meals and snacks under some control no matter what day of the year it is," said Dr. Karen Cullen, associate professor of pediatrics at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at BCM

Be sure children are not overindulging on treats and therefore skipping regular meals, she said. Save holiday treats for scheduled snacks or after-meal deserts, and be sure that they are an appropriate portion size.

"One of the good things about the cookies, chocolates and breads that you receive as gifts is that you can freeze them for later use," said Cullen.

Kids learn from watching their parents, so parents should be good role models. Parents should continue to serve regular balanced meals and snacks and eat with their children.

Exercise does the elderly body good

Exercise can't stop the aging process, but experts at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston say that for the elderly, whether it's weight training, walking, swimming or biking, 30 minutes of exercise three to five times a week is a good prescription for aging.

"It's never too late to start exercising," said Dr. Robert Roush, an associate professor of medicine-geriatrics at BCM. "Being physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent or delay some diseases and disabilities as people age."

Loss of muscle mass typically begins in the 30s or 40s. As muscles shrink, fat cells take their place and that leads to a slowdown in metabolism and weight gain even if caloric intake and expenditure remains the same.

"Any type of movement can be considered exercise, but resistance weight training has been shown to be the best way to reduce the loss of lean muscle," Roush said. 

Early detection of glaucoma can save eyesight

Annual eye exams should include screenings for glaucoma, even for younger adults, because early detection can prevent long-term damage to sight, said ophthalmologists at Baylor College of Medicine.

"The biggest problem with glaucoma is that it's a silent disease, a 'sneak thief of sight,'" said Dr. Silvia Orengo-Nania, professor of ophthalmology in the Baylor Eye Clinic at BCM. "You could have visual damage occurring over time and not know it. Once damage occurs, it is irreversible and you will not be able to get any vision back that you have lost. This is why screening early is critical."

Glaucoma usually occurs when increased pressure in the eye slowly destroys the optic nerve, damaging your ability to see, Orengo-Nania said. Approximately 2 million people in the United States are visually impaired by glaucoma. It is one of the leading causes of blindness. Treatment can help slow down, but not reverse impaired vision, Orengo-Nania said.


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