Many young people with type 2 diabetes have impaired cardiovascular function

As a symptom of the childhood obesity epidemic, many young people are testing positive for type 2 diabetes, something that was previously thought to be nearly impossible. Now, a new study suggests that the condition may be taking a toll on the cardiovascular health of adolescents.

Researchers from Dalhousie University in Canada reported at the recent Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society that many young people with type 2 diabetes showed signs of a condition known as diastolic dysfunction. The cardiovascular complication is characterized by an inability of the heart to fill up with adequate amounts of blood between beats and may be a sign of stiffened arteries.

This type of condition was known to be relatively common in adults with type 2 diabetes, but the researchers said their study provides the first evidence that it can occur in children as well. The findings suggest a troubling future for the cardiovascular health of young people with type 2 diabetes.

For the study, investigators used magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the cardiovascular function of 49 young people after they exercised. Some of the participants had type 2 diabetes, some were obese and others had normal weight and metabolic function.

The results of the testing showed that all young people had strong heart beats. Each participant's cardiac muscle was capable of putting out normal amounts of blood with each pump. However, the hearts of children with type 2 diabetes did not expand and fill up with blood between each beat to the same degree noted in metabolically healthy children. This dysfunction was not noted in young people who were obese but free of type 2 diabetes.

Teresa Pinto, MD, leader of the investigation, said that lifestyle intervention programs may be successful in helping children recover this lost cardiovascular function.

"It appears that irrespective of weight, type 2 diabetes seems to have a negative effect on the heart and blood vessels in adolescents," Pinto said. "This impaired exercise capacity may be reversible with exercise training, however, as some literature in adults suggests."

However, she added that most of the studies of exercise's positive effects on symptoms of diastolic dysfunction were conducted among adults. The same may not necessarily be true in children. She suggested that further investigation be conducted to see if exercise programs improve the cardiovascular function of young people with type 2 diabetes.