Can you predict the likelihood of a child becoming a victim of heart disease?

Predicting Heart Disease in Children

Low birth weight can be an indicator of future heart disease.
Low birth weight can be an indicator of future heart disease.
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Recent research into heart disease has shown that something called C-reactive protein (CRP) plays a big part in developing cardiac issues as an adult. CRP is a protein found in the blood that rears its head whenever inflammation occurs. If you're injured or have an infection or a fever, your CRP levels will spike. But if your CRP levels are consistently high, it could mean your blood vessels are inflamed. Some doctors are beginning to think that high levels of CRP in the blood may have as much of a negative effect on your heart as high cholesterol. A 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that patients with the highest levels of CRP are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as those with lower levels.

Here's where it gets interesting. Doctors are wondering whether high CRP levels in children could be a sign that heart disease is in their future. It's kind of a chicken or egg scenario because there hasn't been a lot of research conducted concerning children and CRP. One study of children in Taipei, Taiwan published in the International Journal of Obesity did find that there was a correlation between high CRP levels and the body mass index in both boys and girls.

Body mass index (BMI) is another key indicator in children that heart disease may be down the road. BMI is your body weight divided by the square of your height and multiplied by 732. In children, the earlier that kids have their lowest BMI followed by a normal increase in their body mass, the more likely they are to have heart trouble later in life. This is called BMI rebound, and it occurs between the ages of four and seven. So children that reach their lowest BMI at four years of age followed by their normal weight gain or "growth spurt" are more likely to have heart trouble than those who have their BMI low point at seven.

Another recently discovered indicator is low birth weight. Research indicates that birth weights below 6.6 pounds (2.9 kilograms) coupled with BMIs lower than 16 at two years old and above 17.5 (7.9 kilograms) at 11 years old made children three times as likely to have heart trouble later in life. The key here may be the relationship between muscle and fat. Low birth weights typically mean less muscle, so when these children gain weight it's more likely to be fat. Mothers can help to avoid low birth weights by making sure they're healthy and fit while pregnant.

The last thing that can indicate future heart trouble is something you can't do anything about -- your genes. Doctors have said that heredity can affect your chances at having heart trouble for years, and now a specific gene has been targeted as a likely culprit. The bad gene is called LTC4S and if you're born with it, you're four times as likely to develop heart trouble later in life [source: The Washington Post].

Researchers have come a long way in helping to pinpoint some of the indicators of future heart disease. Doctors recommend having your child's BMI calculated beginning at the tender age of three. Keep your children's weight in check no matter what, but especially if you have a history of heart disease in your family. It's never too early to start looking at the future of your child's health.

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