Heart disease remains the number one cause of early disability and death in the western world and has recently also become the most frequent cause of early death in the developing world.
Sydney University heart researcher, Professor David Celermajer says the most important diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as heart attack, stroke and the effects of rheumatic heart disease, tend to manifest in middle to late age.
“Nevertheless, many of these disease processes take decades to develop and the first changes do start to occur in teenage life,” he said.
“Sometimes, the earliest changes can even occur in childhood or rarely, even in foetal life. Recent University of Sydney research found children born to overweight or obese mothers already showed signs of early heart disease, namely thickening of the aortic walls.
“This new appreciation of the very early onset of disease has opened the window to the possibility of early detection and thus improved prevention.”
Atherosclerosis is the process of buildup of cholesterol plaques in the main blood vessels of the body that leads to heart attack and stroke.
Professor Celermajer’s lab in Sydney was one of the first in the world to describe the earliest changes in the linings of the blood vessels, changes which are the indicators of developing atherosclerosis later in life. These changes can now be detected in humans using non-invasive techniques such as ultrasound, CT and MRI scanning and have given insights into early detection of vascular disease in children and young adults.
“Early detection of heart disease in childhood and young adult life thus opens up the important possibilities of preventing late disease, with enormous potential benefits across the world, to reduce the devastating impact of heart disease in later life,” Professor Celermajer said.