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Oct 10, 2014

Childhood Risk Factors Have Lifelong Impact on Heart Health

Weight and blood pressure during childhood have a long-lasting impact on heart function later in life.

Cardiovascular risk factors developed in childhood have a long-lasting impact on future heart function, according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

It’s well-established that risk factors like high blood pressure increase risk for heart disease. In fact, such risk factors can cause permanent damage to the heart tissue, called left ventricular hypertrophy, which greatly increases risk of potentially life-threatening heart complications. But when does the damage begin?

Through the Bogalusa Heart Study, researchers followed more than 1,000 individuals to assess how cardiovascular risk factors developed throughout childhood impact heart function as an adult. Between the ages of 4 and 18, participants had at least four check-ups where weight and blood pressure were measured. During the study, participants also underwent echocardiography testing, which can identify unhealthy heart tissue.

After following individuals an average of 28 years, researchers found that the higher a patient’s blood pressure and/or weight during childhood, the thicker their heart tissue was. And abnormally thick heart tissue can lead to serious complications, such as heart disease, heart attackheart failure and sudden cardiac arrest.

Based on their findings, researchers conclude that the negative impact of excess weight and high blood pressure begins in childhood and has the potential to inflict permanent damage to the heart. The good news is that this damage can easily be prevented by addressing cardiovascular risk factors early in life. Healthy lifestyle choices like staying active and maintaining a healthy weight are important at all stages in life, and can prevent risk factors that cause heart disease—America’s No. 1 killer. By promoting a healthy lifestyle during childhood, individuals are more likely to develop healthy habits that can reduce risk for heart disease, even as an adult.
Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is left ventricular hypertrophy?
  • Left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) occurs when the muscle tissue in the heart’s main pumping chamber becomes enlarged. LVH is often caused by high blood pressure or other heart problems and can lead to serious complications, such as heart diseaseheart attack and heart failure. The good news is that LVH can often be treated by addressing the underlying cause of the condition.
  • How can I prevent heart disease?

  • The best ways to help prevent heart disease is by eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, quitting smoking (if a current smoker) and maintaining a healthy weight. Patients should also know their numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, which are important to heart health.

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