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Parents, watch for these warning signs of heart disease in youth
While adults make up the largest number of people with cardiovascular disease, young people are affected, too.
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"Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them." - Oscar Wilde
February is Heart Month, a time to reflect that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States.
It's responsible for an astounding one in four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
While adults make up the largest number of people with cardiovascular disease (the umbrella term for conditions of the heart and blood vessels), young people are affected, too.
Regardless of age, there are some telltale symptoms of cardiovascular disease to watch for in family members. Among them are labored breathing and tightness in the chest, especially after physical activity. In such cases, it’s important to notify a doctor immediately.
Warning signs that may signal a cardiovascular issue in youth include:
- Dizziness with physical exertion.
- Inability to physically keep up with, or becoming out of breath sooner than, others of the same age.
- Turning blue around the gums or tongue.
If one or more of these symptoms is present, it could signal the onset of sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart stops beating. In such cases, every minute counts. If you're outside a home — at the gym, school, shopping mall, grocery store or other public place — look for an automated external defibrillator, or AED. This lightweight, portable device can become a lifesaver by delivering an electric shock through the chest to the heart, halting an irregular heartbeat and enabling the heart to resume its normal rhythm.
Related: The Real Joys of Being a Mom
Even if the situation is not this severe, it is important for your child to have a doctor perform a comprehensive physical examination, listening carefully to your child’s heart to detect potential abnormalities or an irregular heartbeat. Along with an examination, the doctor also may order an electrocardiogram, used to record the heart’s electrical activity or an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to diagnose heart problems.
The good news is that the incidence of cardiovascular disease in children and teens is low. Yet it can't be ignored. Consider these sobering facts:
The U.S. Surgeon General reports that about 5.6 million individuals under the age of 18 who are alive today will die from smoking-related causes. Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable deaths in the nation.
The habit often starts early — nearly 9 of 10 people who became smokers had their first puff before turning 18.
And the danger isn’t just from cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found 42 percent of American high school students have used an electronic vapor product. E-cigarettes contain highly addictive nicotine that can harm an adolescent’s brain development, physical and mental health. Reduced impulse control, deficits in attention and cognition and mood disorders can result from their use.
Asking questions. Asking questions is a normal part of life – but try to resist asking one after the other. Sometimes it is more helpful to comment on what your child has said and wait.
Nationally, an estimated 24 million children — about 30 percent of those between the ages of 2 and 19 — are obese or overweight. Contributing factors may include genetics, metabolism, sleep and community environment. But the big two are diet and physical activity.
Obesity can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that increase heart disease, stroke and diabetes risks. Left unchecked, these problems can lead to significant health issues in adulthood.
The average American between the ages of 2 and 19 consumes more than 3,100 milligrams of sodium, about double recommended by the American Heart Association, daily. The older these individuals get, the more sodium they eat. (Think pizza, chips and pretzels, burgers, chicken fingers and Mexican food.) What’s more, youths with high-sodium diets are about 40 percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure than those eating more sensibly.
The American Heart Association recommends children have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day, yet just 27 percent of high school students meet that baseline. Conversely, 42 percent of youths spend three or more hours a day on computers or video games for non-school activity and 21 percent watch that much television daily.
Explain to your kids why values are important. The simple answer: When you're kind, generous, honest, and respectful, you make the people around you feel good. More important, you feel good about yourself.
There are many ways to help your kids maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle, from addressing the peer pressure they may get for not smoking to serving up the right foods and boosting your child’s fitness.
But if signs and symptoms point to a heart issue, heed the warning and act quickly.
Dr. Timothy Byrne is an interventional cardiologist and market medical director of Abrazo Community Health Network in Phoenix.
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Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.