Heart Risks in Children

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Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects with 1 in every 100 babies born with CHD.

With over 1,400 births every day, that’s 7% of babies which are born already affected by a heart condition. However children are still not adequately screened for heart defects despite many which suffer sudden cardiac arrest having an undetected heart condition.

The most common heart conditions found in children are often structural heart defects, these usually involve a problem with the heart muscle or the heart valves and include;

  • Heart valve conditions such as a narrowing of the aortic valve, which restricts blood flow, or a mitral valve prolapsed, where the mitral valve leaks
  • Defects in the wall which separate the left and right sides of the heart (the septum)

A thorough family history and physical examination including an ECG test as a baseline screening can help detect approximately 60% of the heart conditions which can lead to SCA. Around 2% of children which are heart-screened are diagnosed with a heart abnormality or concern, with a further 1% being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition such as Long QT Syndrome or Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia.

In addition to the heart conditions which can be found during a screening, there are many other different heart problems which can affect children including viral infections which affect the heart and even heart disease which can come to affect later in childhood from illnesses or genetic syndromes.

Preventing cardiovascular disease in children

Whilst there is sadly nothing which can be done to prevent heart defects at birth, there are steps you can take as your child grows to instil positive and heart healthy practices into their life which can prevent the development of CHD as they progress into adulthood.

Salt

Consuming high levels of salt during childhood has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke in adulthood.

The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on their age:

  • 1 to 3 years – 2g of salt a day (0.8g sodium)
  • 4 to 6 years – 3g of salt a day (1.2g sodium)
  • 7 to 10 years – 5g of salt a day (2g sodium)
  • 11 years and over – 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium)

 

It is easy to underestimate the amount of salt which are found in foods, especially those of which are pre-packaged, a 200g tin of tomato soup for example, contains 1.4g of salt, almost the entire recommended daily amount for 1 – 3 year old.

This is why we recommend cooking from scratch to allow you to monitor the amount of salt going into each meal as well as checking the labels of any foods you give your children so you can keep an eye on their daily salt consumption.

Fats and sugar

By eliminating or keeping the amount of saturated fat and processed sugar your child eats to a minimum, you can help to prevent high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure later in life.

A diet which is in excess of fat and sugar can increase your child’s risk in becoming overweight and obese, as well as causing tooth decay; this is why the following foods should be kept on a minimum when it comes to your child’s diet;

  • chocolate
  • sweets
  • fast food, such as fries, burgers and chicken nuggets
  • fizzy drinks
  • biscuits
  • highly processed foods (ready meals etc)

Whilst the above foods may seem like the easy option to give to your child, by providing them with a diet which is fresh and rich in nutrients, you can help to manage their heart health and encourage them to continue with a more balanced lifestyle through adulthood.

Exercise

Whilst most children naturally have the urge to be active and energetic throughout the day, many children who grow accustomed to watching television as they please and spend their afternoons scrolling on an iPad don’t get the exercise they really need.

It is recommended for children under the age of 5 who are able to walk on their own to be physically active for at least 3 hours every day. This can include playing outside, running around the garden or even dancing in the living room!

For children and young people from 5 to 18 years, it is recommended they do at least an hour of physical activity every day including a mix of moderate activities, such as walking and more intensive activities, such as running or swimming.

Exercising this amount can help to strengthen bones and muscles and well as preventing the possibility of weight gain when combined with a healthy diet.

By encouraging your children to be active from a young age, whether it be walking to and from school every day to cycling at the weekends rather than taking the car you can help to make being active a part of their lifestyle and encourage them to keep this habit as they grow.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Whilst heart conditions in the young can be virtually undetectable without testing, there are warning signs and symptoms which can indicate a potential problem. Some of these include;

  • Fainting or seizures during or after physical activity
  • Fainting or seizures following emotional excitement, distress or being surprised
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Unexplained fainting or seizures
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Unusual shortness of breath
  • Unusual fatigue or tiredness
  • Dizziness and/or light-headedness during or after physical activity
  • Family history of unexpected cardiac arrest during physical activity or during a seizure or any other unexplained cardiac arrest of an otherwise healthy family member under the age of 50

If one or more of these symptoms occur, it is advised that you contact your doctor immediately.

SCA can occur with no prior symptoms or can even be a result of a sudden blow to the chest creating a commotion of disturbance of the heart whilst it is electrically recharging in between heartbeats. It is because of this that cardiac arrest cannot be pre-empted, raising an essential need for the definitive equipment to be available for use.

Most occurrences of SCA in children occur in public places, which is why an increased availability of Automated External Defibrillators in schools, leisure centres and various public hotspots is vital to help reduce the 12 deaths which occur each week in young people.

 

Does your child’s school have an AED? Or would you know where the closest defib could be found in your local community? Share your snaps of defibrillators in your local area with @defibshop to highlight their availability and to encourage other towns to equip their schools, workplaces and public areas with these life-saving devices.

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