Atherosclerosis happens when your child’s arteries become clogged with fat and cholesterol deposits, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Just like adults, children can be diagnosed with atherosclerosis – when plaque forms in the arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol.
Arteries are muscular tubes that take oxygen-rich blood from the heart to tissues throughout the body. When the tubes become narrowed, they are not as efficient at transporting blood throughout the body, and less blood gets to the tissues.
Atherosclerosis puts children at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, high cholesterol and strokes. Typically, the disease isn’t discovered until the adolescent years (12-17 years of age). In most children, changes to the arteries are mild and can be decreased by living a healthy lifestyle.
Atherosclerosis occurs in children for many of the same reasons it occurs in adults:
- Cancer treatment – some chemotherapy treatments can cause problems in the heart and vascular system.
- Chronic kidney disease – chronic kidney disease has been linked to cardiovascular disease.
- Depressive and bipolar disorders – depression and anxiety disorders can contribute to heart disease by affecting heart rhythms, blood pressure, blood clotting, insulin and cholesterol.
- Diabetes – high glucose levels can damage blood vessels.
- Dyslipidemia – disorder of lipoprotein metabolism that affects cholesterol levels.
- Family history – cardiovascular disease can run in families.
- Heart transplant – this procedure can cause problems in the heart and vascular system.
- High blood pressure (also called hypertension) – high blood pressure damages the lining of the arteries, making them more susceptible to plaque.
- Kawasaki disease with coronary aneurysms – Kawasaki disease causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body.
- Smoking and secondhand smoke – smoking damages the lining of arteries, making them susceptible to fatty buildup.
- Unhealthy diet, weight and exercise habits – these can cause problems with the heart and vascular system.
Symptoms of atherosclerosis include:
- Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, Kawasaki disease and chronic kidney disease
- High blood pressure