Taking care of your child’s heart

This World Heart Day, here are some frequently asked questions that will help you ensure a heart healthy future for your child

By Zoha Tapia

A heart disease in the onset of one’s life is usually due to bad lifestyle habits during childhood. Hence, to ensure that your child lives a heart healthy life, it is important to keep a check on his or her heart health and lifestyle as soon as possible.

Can my child suffer from heart ailments?
Children suffer from what is called congenital heart disease, which is present from birth due to some developmental abnormality in the mother’s womb. Dr Dhiman Kahali, senior consultant cardiologist, BM Birla Heart Research Centre says, “The abnormalities may be atrial septal defect, PDA (patent ductus arteriosus), transposition of great arteries, fallot’s tetralogy and rarely cardiac myopathy, which is a severe weakness of the heart muscle with dilated heart.”

Apart from congenital heart diseases, children get affected by rheumatic heart disease and heart rhythm disorders due to extra pathways in cardiac conduction system or due to cellular abnormalities.

During my pregnancy I was under medication, is that a cause for concern?
Congential heart diseases can be due to genetic abnormality, or due to exposure of the mother to various infections, drugs/radiation in early stage of pregnancy.  However, Dr Shashidhar, consultant interventional cardiologist and electrophysiologist, Fortis Hospital says, “This can be prevented to a certain extent by having prenatal screening for congenital heart disease and avoiding exposure to infections, certain drugs and radiation during pregnancy.

How can I treat other heart diseases that my child may fall prey to?
“Genetic counselling for those with a history of congenital heart disease is important. Rheumatic heart diseases can be prevented by prompt treatment of streptococcal infections in children. In those who already have rheumatic fever, penicillin injections at regular intervals till a certain age are important. Some of the rhythm disorders especially supraventricular arrhythmias can be managed by medicines and if still symptomatic can be cured by radiofrequency ablation in majority of the cases,” says Dr Shashidhar.

My child suffers from shortness of breath very often. Could that be a sign of an impending heart ailment?

Breathlessness for minimal exertion, extremities and lips turning blue during exertion or crying, stunted physical and sometimes mental growth can be due to heart ailments. “Too slow or fast heart rates for the age can be due to rhythm problems. In extreme cases patients can develop swelling of face, body and breathing difficulty at rest due to heart failure,” says Dr Shashidhar.

Dr Kahali adds, “Easy fatigue, loss of consciousness, frequent cough and cold since early days of life, lack of physical development are some of the symptoms of the presence of heart diseases in young children. Sometimes, though rarely, cerebral stroke can occur in children due to very high blood pressure due to coarctation of aorta or kidney disease.”

What should I feed my child for a healthy heart?

Childhood obesity is a problem that can eventually lead to heart disease.  It is important to know how much food a child should eat in a day, and make sure that regular exercise is just as much a part of a child's daily lifestyle as a heart-healthy diet. “The average one to three-year-olds need to consume about 1000 - 1060 calories a day while the average teenage girl requires 1,800 and the average teenage boy needs 2,200. Children, like adults, need some fat in their diets but after the age of two it can be reduced depending upon the child’s body weight. Up to the age of two years 30 to 40 percent of energy should consist of healthy fats. From age two onwards the minimum level of fat in the child’s diet should be 25 percent of energy. It is essential to maintain healthy body weight with exercise and physical activity,” says Rekha Sharma, president, Indian Dietetic Association, director, Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Diabetes Foundation (India)

How do I control my child’s eating habits?
You have to control the diet of a child to form a habit. Making a child differentiate between healthy and unhealthy food from an early age will help in controlling their diet. Sharma gives us the following steps to ensure this happens.

  • “Eating meals and watching TV at the same time makes it difficult to pay attention to the hunger and may lead to overeating.
  • Eating slowly helps to detect hunger and fullness better. Encourage your child to eat slowly.
  • Moderate amounts of sweets or desserts are recommended. Fat, salt, sugar also have a moderate place in their diet. Don't curb them completely. Just teach your child to take small portions of it.
  • Make or keep a wide variety of healthy foods ready at home to be eaten as snacks. Do allow occasional indulgence of chips, colas and cookies, as a small snack and not as a meal replacement.
  • Use a heart healthy cooking medium like canola oil to cook their food in.
  • If your kid is having lunch at school, find out more about the lunch timings. If you pack your child's food include variety of healthy foods including fruits.
  • If you as parents eat healthy nutritious food, your child tends to learn and pick up similar eating habits. Set a good example by eating a variety of nutritious foods and snacks. Teaching your child healthy eating practices early in life will help develop an approach to eating food with the right attitude.”
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