OVERLAND PARK, Kan.– High cholesterol, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes. Those are conditions 16-year-olds shouldn’t have. But a growing number of kids are on the path to early heart attacks.
Garrett Corliss is getting an ultrasound exam of a neck artery. There’s evidence of plaque build-up that leads to heart attacks and strokes.
“That’s typically what one would see in a healthy 45-year-old, so that’s very concerning to me,” says Dr. Geetha Raghuveer of Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Garrett is 16. In the preventive cardiology clinic at Children’s Mercy, he’s been diagnosed with obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease and pre-diabetes.
Garrett knows how it happened.
“Years of bad habits. Doing things I shouldn’t have been doing like drinking sugary drinks,” says Garrett.
Poor eating habits and a lack of exercise are big reasons why the clinic sees more than 400 kids who have significant risk factors for heart disease.
Garrett’s troubles began to become apparent only after he had a cholesterol screening last year. That screening is now recommended for all kids between the ages of nine and 11.
Dr. Raghuveer says finding heart disease risk factors at that age is far better than later.
“I wish he’d been recognized to have these risk factors about five or 10 years ago. And we might have been able to change his lifestyle more successfully,” says the cardiologist.
In the clinic, Garrett works with a dietitian and an exercise specialist on changing habits that are already ingrained at age 16.
“It’s gonna take years of work to get back into the healthy cycle again,” says Garrett.
But Garrett knows he has to.
“It can cut my life short if all goes wrong,” says Garrett.
The doctor says with intensive lifestyle changes and medication, the damage already done to arteries can be reversed.