The primary goal of preventive cardiology is to develop permanent, healthy habits in kids that will decrease the chances they’ll develop cardiovascular disease as they grow older. Heather Phelps, D.O., a pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and director of CHOA’s Preventive Cardiology Program, shares her insight into the importance of preventive cardiology.
Why Preventive Cardiology is Important
“Preventive cardiology has to do with the idea that we can modify some lifestyle habits that can help us decrease our chances of getting cardiovascular disease as we age,” says Dr. Phelps. “Two of the most common reasons a child would need to see a preventive cardiologist is because of hypertension (high blood pressure) or dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), which are two major concerns for kids.” Evaluation and treatment of these problems early in life can improve their long-term cardiovascular health. We are often able to treat these conditions non-invasively, that is without medication and with dietary improvements and increased physical activity. We tailor our recommendations specifically for the individual patient. “Our goal with our patients is to set realistic, gradual lifestyle changes that will have a positive impact on their cardiac health in the future.”
Universal Screening for Elevated Cholesterol
Not too long ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended universal screening for elevated cholesterol in children between the ages of 9-11 and 17-21. With the advent of testing nearly all children at these ages, there has been an increased need for subspecialist interpretation of abnormal results and a subsequent need for expert evaluation and intervention. Although it is unusual to have severe abnormalities, elevated cholesterol can signify the
presence of other health issues and potentially an increased risk for acquired cardiovascular disease. With universal screening, we can now find these problems early and treat them to prevent problems later.
Diet and Exercise
When we recommend lifestyle improvements, we are generally referring to improving our dietary
habits and our amount of physical activity. One simple way to improve dietary habits is simply to minimize or eliminate sugary drinks. These include sodas, sweet tea, juice and even sports drinks. “Drinking liquids with sugar only adds empty calories to your child’s intake. When they don’t burn off these calories, it could lead to the common problems we see in our patients.”
A huge misconception of exercise limitations for children with a heart condition is that they can’t do any physical activity at all. “Modification is key. It’s very rare that a patient cannot perform any physical activity due to a heart condition, and kids can still live an active lifestyle if they understand what personalized restrictions they have,” says Dr. Phelps.
When major risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and elevated blood pressure are properly treated, often with just a healthy diet and exercise, early cardiovascular disease may be prevented.
Our Preventive Cardiology Program
Through Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, our preventive cardiology program provides a complete range of services for kids with conditions that place them at risk for early cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes. We have preventive cardiologists and a cardiac nutritionists on staff to give children a better understanding of how to make changes in their life today for a healthier tomorrow.
If you’re worried about your child’s cardiac health, it’s important to speak with a professional,” says Dr. Phelps. “While their condition may not be an emergent problem now, it is important that we all do what we can to prevent complications in the future. This usually involves making small but permanent improvements in your child’s lifestyle and setting realistic expectations.”
In the event that the problem is severe, we can address that too and answer all the questions you have about your child’s condition and health.
To learn more about preventive cardiology, here are some more resources:
- CHOA’s Preventive Cardiology Program
- National Recommendations for Promotion of Cardiovascular Health
For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.