Question of the Week

February 10, 2003


"The normal heart is a strong, muscular pump a little larger than a fist. It pumps blood continuously through the circulatory system. Each day the average heart "beats" (or expands and contracts) 100,000 times and pumps
about 2,000 gallons of blood."

"February is all about hearts . . . and we don't mean just the paper or candy kind that show up around Valentine's Day. This month is American Heart Month, a time to learn about keeping your heart and cardiovascular system in tip-top shape. You may think that because you're young you don't need to think about problems like heart attacks and high blood pressure. But the choices you make today - such as deciding to eat a good diet and get regular exercise - can help you stay healthy years from now. To find out how to treat your heart right, you can start with these articles:..."

Okay, so maybe heart disease doesn't show itself for years, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist in kids and teens.

"...we should be concerned with kids' cholesterol levels for a couple of reasons. First, we have a pretty good idea of what the precursors of full-blown atherosclerosis disease are. A blocked coronary artery doesn't appear overnight. There are early indicators, what are generally called fatty streaks. If you take the aorta or other fat, you'll see stained areas that show this fat. Eventually it can progress further; by the mid-20s some people will show more than just fatty streaks or even atherosclerosis....A number of other studies based on autopsy findings, some in very young kids, also support the idea that atherosclerosis begins early in life. The lesions begin fairly early and then progress. But most people won't have a heart attack early. It's in midlife when the clinical signs of blocked coronary arteries became apparent. Unfortunately, the first clinical sign could be a fatal or nonfatal heart attack. Thus, even though people don't have heart attacks when they are young, atherosclerosis may be developing during this period."

So what does all this mean to someone who is 10? 15? 20? One could argue that habits (eating, exercise, etc.) started at early ages are likely to stay with you when the consequences of heart disease begin to become more real. One could argue that it is difficult to later undo damage that is being done at an early age. One could also argue that heart disease takes decades to develop, and there more immediate things that children and teens have to deal with every day.

Questions of the Week:
Since there are often no noticeable signs of heart disease in young people, why would heart disease be something that young people should be thinking about? When should the risks of heart disease start being considered while people (young and old) are making lifestyle choices?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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