Teenagers with type 2 diabetes are likely to have blood vessels that resemble those of someone decades older, a small study suggests.
The study, of 62 teenagers with and without type 2 diabetes, found that diabetic teens had greater stiffness in their arteries - comparable to that seen in middle-aged adults. What’s more, teenagers who were obese but not diabetic also had more rigid arteries than their normal-weight peers.
Though the adolescents were not yet showing a buildup of plaques in the arteries - which can lead to Heart attack or Stroke - that could change a decade or so down the road, said study co-author Dr. Silva Arslanian.
“I think what we’re seeing are the very early functional changes in the arteries,” explained Arslanian, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
The findings, published in the journal Diabetes Care, highlight the importance of preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes in children, according to Arslanian and her colleagues.
Type 2 diabetes arises when the body can no longer properly use the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar. It is closely linked to obesity, and was once seen almost exclusively in middle-aged and older adults. But with the sharp increase in childhood Obesity in the U.S., more and more children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
In their study, Arslanian and her colleagues used ultrasound to gauge arterial stiffness in 20 teenagers with diabetes, and in 22 normal-weight and 20 obese teens without the disease. Overall, arterial stiffness was greatest in the diabetic group, followed by the obese teenagers.
As people age, the arteries normally lose some of their elasticity, making them less responsive to changes in blood flow. The fact that teenagers in this study showed arterial stiffness similar to that of someone far older is “worrisome,” Arslanian said.
Future studies, she noted, will need to examine whether weight loss - a cornerstone of type 2 diabetes management - can reverse arterial stiffness in diabetic and obese teens.
SOURCE: Diabetes Care, May 2005.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD