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5 things teen girls (and their parents) should know about heart health

By Laura Williamson. The American Heart Association.

Good – or bad – heart health begins now

Habits and lifestyle behaviors established in adolescence – such as staying physically active and eating a healthy diet, or not – can put a person on a path toward good or bad cardiovascular health, say experts like pediatric cardiologist Dr. Teresa Lee.

Studies have shown that atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup, can begin to develop as early as adolescence. Hardened, or narrowed, arteries block blood flow and can lead to heart attacks, strokes or other problems later in life. An unhealthy diet, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity and being overweight can contribute to high cholesterol, a major risk factor for atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke.

Listen to your heart

While most teens will have healthy hearts, it's important to notice signs or symptoms that something could be amiss – and speak to someone about it, Lee said.

For example, "if there's ever something you were able to do that all of a sudden you are unable to do," that could signal a problem, she said. "You are your best predictor of when things are off."

Pregnancy can affect your heart

"Pregnancy is a big stress for anybody, and it's a big stress especially on the heart," Lee said.

Pregnant teens can be at high risk for preeclampsia, a condition that can cause very high blood pressure.

Pregnancy can be especially problematic if a teen has an underlying congenital heart defect or cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure or obesity, which can lead to pregnancy complications.

Some things may feel like heart problems, but aren't

A rapid heartbeat could be a sign of heart trouble, but it might not be, Simms-Cendan said. It could be a sign of anxiety, which has increased in prevalence among teens and adolescents since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

"When teens have anxiety, their heart races," she said. "This feels frightening, but if their heart is healthy, they are not in danger."

Parents can play an important role

Talking to teenagers about heart health can be challenging for parents. But if they want their kids to practice healthy habits, the first thing they should do is lead by example, Lee and Simms-Cendan said.

"Teenagers are not always receptive to hearing advice or critiques about eating or sleeping habits from the adults in their life," Lee said. "Honestly, I think one of the best things parents can do is mirror a healthy lifestyle and healthy choices."


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