Does Family History of Heart Disease Put Your Child at Risk Now?

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Most people know that cardiovascular disease runs in families. If you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, you might be wondering if your children might also develop this medical condition.

Having a family history of high cholesterol or premature heart disease can put children at risk for developing cardiovascular disease -- even when they are young, says pediatric cardiologist Diana Drogalis-Kim, DO.

These family history indicators are:

  • Early heart attack, stroke or high blood pressure -- before age 65 for women and before age 55 for men
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood sugar

Children and teens usually don’t show symptoms of heart disease, but the buildup of fatty deposits in the bloodstream can start in childhood and have a serious impact on their adult life.

What Should Parents Do?

Since 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has advised parents and pediatricians to screen high-risk children for signs that they’ve begun to develop heart disease.

Your child’s pediatrician will work with you to determine if screening or treatment is necessary, Dr. Drogalis-Kim says. In assessing your child’s risk, your pediatrician will take into account your child’s individual health profile in addition to your family medical history.

“Your child’s pediatrician is a key player in this process,” she says. “Every time you take your child to the pediatrician for a well-child check, they should go over their medical history in addition to performing a physical exam.”

Addressing risk for cardiovascular disease in children doesn’t always mean going straight to prescription medicine. Initial treatment for kids at increased risk of heart disease is almost always improved diet and building daily exercise habits, Dr. Drogalis-Kim says.

In the meantime, your child’s pediatrician may recommend one or more preventive screenings to better assess your child’s health.

Common Screening Tests for Heart Disease in Kids

These screenings can be an important step toward preventing heart disease in your child and reducing the risk of developing the condition as an adult.

  • Blood pressure measurement using an inflatable cuff
  • Body mass index (BMI), which is calculated based on your child’s height and gender and then compared against other children of the same age. Body weight may also be considered.
  • Fasting blood glucose, which measures the amount of sugar in your child’s blood and fasting lipid profile, which measures your child’s total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol, “good” HDL cholesterol and blood fats, which are called triglycerides. For these two tests, your child will not eat or drink (except for water) for 12 hours and then have a small amount of blood drawn in the doctor’s office or lab.

What Can Happen After a Screening Test

In some cases where blood cholesterol is extremely high, there are rare cases where medication may be needed in addition to dietary changes and exercise implementation. Your child will also likely be referred to a specialist such as a pediatric cardiologist to help with their care.

“Heart disease is a leading cause of death in adults, and now we are seeing early signs of heart disease in children,” Dr. Drogalis-Kim says. “Making lifestyle changes for children early on is definitely an important intervention. We can start to work on risk factors as young as the toddler stage, through aerobic exercise and a heart-healthy diet.”

Related Links

The Congenital Heart Collaborative at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital features a nationally recognized team of heart specialists, including pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons and pediatric cardiologists. All of our specialists have extensive pediatric training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of congenital heart conditions. Learn more about The Congenital Heart Collaborative at UH Rainbow.

 

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