Heart conditions that affect children fall into two broad groups, according to pediatric cardiologist Walter Sobczyk, M.D. They are: congenital heart conditions and acquired heart conditions that develop during infancy and childhood.

Congenital heart conditions are most often the result of abnormal or incomplete development of an infant’s heart.

Acquired heart conditions in children are often the same ones that develop in adults, such as an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) and high blood pressure (hypertension). But the most common acquired heart conditions in children are Kawasaki disease and rheumatic heart disease. They can eventually produce an inflamed and weakened heart.

High blood pressure is a concern for all children, said Dr. Sobczyk. Have your child’s blood pressure checked regularly after 3 years old, or earlier if he or she was a premature, has a heart defect or is overweight. As with adults, obesity raises a child’s chances of developing heart disease. Being overweight at a young age may become a lifelong condition. It increases the chances of getting diabetes, or suffering a heart attack or stroke as kids grow into adulthood.

Eating “heart-healthy” is not only about oatmeal and omega-3 fats. Children need a balance of nutrients in their diets. And diet is not enough – encourage your children to engage in sports such as swimming, tennis, running and biking.

Dr. Sobczyk said that the best thing you can do for your child’s heart health is to set a good example. Plan healthy family meals and engage in physical activity with your kids as often as you can.

If you’d like to get your child’s heart health checked, call Dr. Sobczyk at Pediatric Cardiology Associates, 502-585-4802.

Adult Heart Health: What You Need to Know

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health from the “ULP Insider” newsletter. Read the entire February issue (opens as a PDF document).