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Guidelines for Children’s Heart Health

Image for children's heart health articleCardiovascular disease includes conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, such as atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries), heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. While you may think that these conditions are more of a concern for adults, researchers are now highlighting how important it is to prevent cardiovascular disease from developing in children.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has developed guidelines to help promote heart health in children. It’s never too early to think about your child’s future! Learn how doctors can identify whether your child is at risk, what can be done to prevent cardiovascular problems, and which treatments can improve your child’s chances of being a healthy adult.

Is Your Child at Risk?  ^

Based on the latest research, the NHLBI’s guidelines provide ways for doctors to assess the risk of cardiovascular disease in children. Recommended screenings include:

ScreeningNHLBI Recommendation
Blood pressure measurementannually beginning at age three years and then at every visit starting at age 18 years
Lipid profile (tests for cholesterol problems)once between ages 9-11 years and again between ages 17-21 years; measure at other times if child is at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease due to family history of cardiovascular disease or child has diabetes, high blood pressure, or if the child is overweight
Body mass index (BMI) tracking started at age two years

Other important factors that the doctor will consider include whether your child:

By evaluating your child, the doctor can address conditions that are closely linked to cardiovascular problems, like obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

What Are the Recommendations?  ^

Focusing on the areas of nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco exposure, the NHLBI recommends prevention and treatment guidelines for children of all ages. You can play an integral role at home by:

In addition to these lifestyle changes, the doctor may need to prescribe medication if your child is diagnosed with a condition like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. No matter what your child’s age or risk factors, there are ways to make each day healthier. Creating routines that focus on good nutrition, exercise, and healthy habits can help your child set the stage for a long life and a strong heart.

RESOURCES:

American Council on Exercise
http://www.acefitness.org

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cardiovascular Society
http://www.ccs.ca

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
http://www.heartandstroke.com

REFERENCES:

Childhood obesity facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm. Updated February 27, 2014. Accessed May 6, 2014.

Cholesterol and atherosclerosis in children. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Cholesterol-and-Atherosclerosis-in-Children_UCM_305952_Article.jsp. Updated August 7, 2012. Accessed May 6, 2014.

Expert panel on integrated guidelines for cardiovascular health and risk reduction in children and adolescents: summary report. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cvd_ped/summary.htm. Published 2012. Accessed May 6, 2014.

Food groups. Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture website. Available at:http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/. Accessed May 6, 2014.

NHLBI integrated guidelines for pediatric cardiovascular risk reduction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 12, 2013. Accessed May 6, 2014.

Last reviewed May 2014 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 5/6/2014