Even Teens Show Signs
Of Heart Disease And
Clogged Arteries
By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Correspondent
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Researchers looking at heart transplant patients said Tuesday they found, completely by accident, clear signs of the beginnings of heart disease in young adults in their 20s and even some teenagers.
They said one in six teenagers who died in accidents and whose hearts then were used for transplant had the beginnings of fatty clogging of their arteries.
``They had the seeds of heart disease that shows up as a heart attack 20 to 30 years later,'' Dr. Murat Tuzcu of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, told reporters.
He said the message was clear.
``I think parents should be aware that this thing starts early,'' Tuzcu said. ``We can't sit in our comfortable chairs and wait for a heart attack.''
Tuzcu was not looking for heart disease. He was examining the hearts of 125 young adults that had been transplanted into other people.
He said he used an ultrasound technique that involves threading a catheter into the coronary arteries, which lead to the heart. The idea was to check the status of the transplanted heart, and he did this a few weeks after transplantation -- not enough time for the recipients to have developed their own plaques.
To his surprise, even the youngest donors, those under the age of 20, often had the beginnings of blockages, he said. The older the donor, the thicker the plaques, Tuzcu told a meeting of the American Heart Association.
``This phenomenon was more prominent and frequent in young boys than in young girls,'' he said. He added that about one in five boys and one in 10 girls had the blockages.
Doctors performing autopsies of young people who were killed in accidents or died of other non-disease-related causes frequently have noticed fatty streaks in the arteries of the children, but Tuzcu said it is different to see living tissue.
All the young people whose hearts were donated for transplant had been very healthy when they were killed and had no symptoms of heart disease.
The blockages became more common as the donors got older. Tuzcu said 26 of the 36 heart donors between the ages of 41 and 50 had them. Five of the 32 donors under age 20 did as well, he said.
He said parents should make sure their children exercise and eat right. ``They should eat vegetables and (whole) grains and fruit,'' he said. ``We certainly are not advocating putting kids on a diet.''
But Tuzcu said they could eat fewer treats and junk food, and exercise more.
``Look at the time young children spend in front of the TV on the couch,'' he added. ``I think this is a very fresh look at a very serious problem.''