With heart disease as the second leading cause of death in Canada, it begs the question, are children today susceptible to heart disease? Although prevalent in adults, heart disease is not a leading cause of death amongst children. However, the majority of risk factors that affect children can be controlled early in life, thus lowering the risk of heart disease in adulthood. Parents who promote and encourage heart healthy choices such as diet and exercise early in life can help lower the risk of heart disease for their children.
What is heart disease?
According the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, heart disease is not a singular condition, but rather a group of conditions that affects the structure and functionality of the heart. These conditions can be caused by several different root causes including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, unhealthy eating habits, stress, drugs and alcohol and lack of exercise, just to name a few. It’s important to note that most children will not have these ‘issues’ when they are young, but they can develop them later on in life, if they are not taught or exposed to a healthy lifestyle.Types of heart disease
The Heart and Stroke Foundation lists the following types of heart disease:
- Coronary artery and vascular diseaseare due to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Coronary artery disease happens when the arteries in your heart are narrowed or blocked. It’s the most common kind of heart disease and causes most heart attacks as well as angina (chest pain). Vascular disease is problems in other blood vessels which reduce blood flow and affect the function of your heart.
- Heart rhythm disorders(arrhythmias) cause the heart to beat too slowly, too quickly or in a disorganized fashion. Millions of Canadians experience heart rhythm disorders which disrupt blood flow. There are many types of arrhythmias – some have no symptoms or warning signs; others can be sudden and fatal.
- Structural heart diseaserefers to abnormalities of the heart’s structure – including its valves, walls, muscles or blood vessels near the heart. It can be present at birth (congenital) or acquired after birth through infection, wear and tear, or other factors. People living with heart defects and their families need support throughout every age and stage of their life, often requiring ongoing medical care and surgical procedures.
- Heart failureHeart failure is a serious condition that develops after the heart becomes damaged or weakened. The two most common causes of heart failure are heart attack and high blood pressure. There is no cure, but early diagnosis, lifestyle changes and medication can help people lead an active life, stay out of hospital and live longer.
For more information, read our blog The Different Types of Heart Disease.
Is heart disease hereditary?
Research conducted by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute indicates that, of the many things that can be inherited, heart disease including arrhythmia, congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy and high blood cholesterol can be passed on. Coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or even heart failure, can be hereditary, indicating inherited genetic risk factors.
The Institute explains that genetics can greatly influence heart disease in many ways and controls every aspect of the cardiovascular system, including blood vessels and cellular function related to the heart. It is strongly encouraged that children with families with a history of heart disease are regularly monitored and taught a healthy lifestyle from a young age. They can also undergo screening to determine risk factors and early stage disease that may not show early symptoms.
Congenital heart disease
Congenital heart disease is a condition that children are born with. The disease can range from mild to severe, with the latter requiring medical treatment. Children can be born with congenital heart disease if their chambers, walls or valves of the heart don’t develop normally when it the womb. Thanks to medical advances and technology, children born with congenital heart disease have a positive outlook and 9 in 10 will survive into adulthood.
The Canadian Congenital Heart Alliance provides the following statistics:
- Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the world’s leading birth defect. About 1 in 80-100 Canadian children are born with CHD. Sixty years ago, only about 20 per cent of children survived to adulthood; that number has since increased to about 90 per cent – resulting in a growing population of young adults who require life-long cardiac care.
- There are an estimated 257,000 Canadians with congenital heart disease.
- Of the 257,000 Canadians with CHD, two-thirds are adults. At least half face the prospect of complications, multiple surgeries, and/or premature/sudden death.
Children today are exposed to unhealthy habits that affect heart health
The Heart and Stroke Foundation says that today’s children are exposed to so many dangerous elements that affect their heart health. For example, drinking staggering amounts of sugary drinks like pop and eating processed foods are contributing to obesity which, in turn, can lead to heart disease later in life. As well, it has been proven that children eat and drink more unhealthy foods as the amount of time spent time in front of the T.V. or electronic devices has also increased. Data shows that the economic burden of obesity in Canada due to direct healthcare costs and indirect costs from lost productivity is estimated to be between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion annually.
Read The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians for more shocking details.
How can heart disease be prevented?
Heart disease can be prevented by making simple yet effective lifestyle changes. Again, children must be taught good habits early on, otherwise, their risk of heart disease increases as they get older. Talk to your children about the dangers of smoking and drug and alcohol use. If you engage in these behaviours yourself, think about quitting so that you can set an example for your children. Get active with your kids! Exercise is a natural remedy for many things, including maintaining heart health. By staying active as a family, you will decrease everyone’s risk for heart disease. And last, but not least, eat a balanced and healthy diet. Many Canadians make poor food choices which can lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Speak to your doctor or a dietician if you and your children struggle with healthy eating. It’s never too late to make positive lifestyle changes!
Teach them early and prevent heart disease
Children, as they say, are like sponges. They absorb and learn bad habits early on. If we want our children to be healthy and decrease their risk of heart disease, we must promote and encourage healthy living right from the start! Make it a family affair – eat and get active together. Your hearts will thank you later!