February is Heart Month – a good time to learn about heart disease and how it can affect you and your family. One group that often gets overlooked in most public service campaigns are young people. Unfortunately, risk factors for cardiac disease are on the rise in this group.
While children and teens have a low risk of developing cardiovascular disease, now is the time they should be developing healthy habits and learning about risk factors, such as:
Obesity: Nationally, an estimated 24 million children – about 30 percent of those between the ages of 2-19 – are obese or overweight. Obesity can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase heart disease, stroke and diabetes risks.
Poor diet: The average American between the ages of 2 and 19 consumes more than 3,100 milligrams of sodium daily, about double recommended by the American Heart Association. Youth with high-sodium diets are about 40 percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure than those eating sensibly.
Lack of exercise: The American Heart Association recommends children have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity every day, yet just 27 percent of high school students meet that baseline. Conversely, U.S. teens now spend an average of more than seven hours per day on “screen media” and that is only for entertainment (not for school or homework), according to a study by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that works with kids, parents and schools to navigate media. Tweens are not far behind, spending five hours a day, on average, in front of a computer or video screen.
The good news is that we’ve made tremendous strides with early detection and treatment of cardiovascular disease and risk factors in young people. Rick factors include vaping, dietary issues and lack of exercise. Thanks to research and improved technology, there are more options for medication or other interventions if needed.
Sports cardiology is also a growing field. It involves the diagnosis and management of cardiac issues in athletes. At Abrazo Health, we’re interested in helping athletes, young and old, manage health issues so they can safely perform at their peak no matter what their sport.
It is important to have regular preventive visits with a doctor and ask questions. Cardiovascular symptoms among youth can be subtle, and may include:
- Chest pain
- Dizziness with physical exertion
- Palpitations or a fluttering feeling in the chest, fainting or near fainting
- Inability to physically keep up with or becoming out of breath sooner than others of the same age, or turning blue with exercise especially around the nose and mouth
Remember, heart disease is not just an “old person’s disease.” Learning about your heart and putting in place good habits starts early in life and pays lifelong benefits.
Written by: Gopi Cherukuri, MD, FACC, Abrazo Health
Gopi Cherukuri, MD, FACC, is an interventional cardiologist at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital, 1930 E. Thomas Road, Phoenix; abrazohealth.com