Teens with Cardiovascular Risk Factors Face Accelerated Arterial Aging by Their Early ‘20s

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A new study to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association demonstrates that teenagers must control cardiovascular risk factors in adolescence or face “accelerated arterial aging” by their early ‘20s.

The study, which examined young people over a period of four years, shows that teens with risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity and high levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) have abnormal thickness and stiffness (atherosclerosis) of their carotid arteries by the time they are 22 on average.

Carotid arteries supply blood to the brain. Atherosclerosis of carotid arteries is associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart attacks in adults.

“Young people must change their lifestyles to reduce risk factors and prevent a projected decline in life expectancy,” says Elaine Urbina, MD, director of preventive cardiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the study’s lead author.

“Physicians should address cardiovascular risk factors early in life to prevent stroke and heart attacks in adulthood, and they should continue to screen for abnormalities in cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure, especially in children with an elevated body mass index or type 2 diabetes.”

Dr. Urbina will present her study Nov. 7 at the AHA meeting in Los Angeles.

Dr. Urbina and colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s studied 124 people between the ages of 10 and 22. They found a significant increase in internal carotid wall thickness, particularly in people with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Carotid stiffness also increased, particularly in people who, at the beginning of the study, had high LDL cholesterol, a change in body mass index, and baseline carotid stiffness.

Dr. Urbina’s study is one of the first to follow people over time (longitudinal study) and show the rate of progression of carotid wall thickness in this age group. In 2009, the AHA journal Circulation published a study by Dr. Urbina showing that obese children as young as 11 have atherosclerosis of their carotid arteries. The earlier study, however, measured risk factors and carotid thickness and stiffness at the same time (cross-sectional study), rather than over a period of time.

The new study was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI R01 HL105591-01).

About Cincinnati Children’s

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is third in the nation in U.S.News and World Report’s 2012 Best Children’s Hospitals ranking. It is ranked #1 for neonatology and in the top 10 for all pediatric specialties. Cincinnati Children’s is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health. It is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at

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