In the past, coronary artery disease was considered to be a disease of the elderly. In recent years, though, the occurrence of heart attacks is on the rise, especially in young adults who are under 40. In fact, according to research conducted in the United States, 20 percent of people who have a heart attack are 40 years old or younger; a rate that has risen 2 percent a year for the last 10 years. It has also been seen that young patients with heart attacks are at a similar risk of dying as compared to their older counterparts.
What is the reason behind this surge in the incidence of heart attacks in the young?
Various factors have been attributed to this causation. Among the most prominent factors are the rising incidence of diabetes mellitus, hypertension and high cholesterol due to increasing obesity (waist-hip ratio), increased consumption of processed foods and beverages and lack of physical activity. Work-related stress and increased screen time also contribute significantly towards heart problems.
Another factor responsible is smoking and consumption of narcotic substances such as cocaine and marijuana in the younger population. The consumption of these abusive substances causes a sudden constriction of coronary arteries, impeding the blood flow to the heart and resulting in a heart attack.
Genetic predisposition to heart attacks in the young is also well studied. It is seen that if a person's father or brother had a heart attack when they were under 55 years of age or their mother or sister experiences it when they were under 65 years of age, then the chances of them having coronary artery disease are increased. Such individuals need to be more vigilant for their health.
What should be done to prevent the occurrence of heart attacks in young individuals?
First and foremost, youngsters should be encouraged to quit smoking and narcotic substances. Secondly, they must adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle where they consume fresh fruits and vegetables, engage in physical activity most days of the week, work towards weight reduction and quit harmful habits. If an individual is suffering from diabetes and hypertension, adequate control with diet and medicines is important.
It is recommended that individuals between 20-39 years should get their cardiac evaluation done every 4-6 years; in the case of genetic susceptibility, the frequency of testing can be increased. It is seen that if an individual had a heart attack at a younger age then they are at a higher risk of having another heart attack or stroke at a later stage in life. Spreading awareness among the youth about early detection and prevention measures is the most important step in the successful prevention and management of this condition.
This article is written by Dr Rohit Goel, Consultant, Interventional Cardiology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.
For more information, read our article on Heart Attack.
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