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Why Are Young Adults Having Heart Attacks?

Recent headlines have been filled with young adult heart attack victims, including the 18-year-old sister of a well-known pop singer and a 19-year-old former Miss Teen Universe, both of whom died from the unexpected event. Heart attacks, commonly associated with older men and women, are becoming more prevalent in young adults — specifically in young women — and researchers are trying to figure out why.

heart attack

Each year, around 790,000 Americans have a heart attack, which occurs when part of the heart doesn’t receive enough blood. Attacks most often occur as a result of heart disease — the leading cause of death in the United States. According to a recent study, the overall population of heart attack-related hospital admissions in the United States for young adults has been steadily climbing, with the largest increase being in young women. When compared to the young men in the study, the young women were more likely to have medical insurance, as well as a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and stroke.

Researchers say the fact that heart attacks are often considered “a man’s disease” may play a role in the increase. Women who arrive at an urgent care complaining of chest pain may not be seen as high risk, and they may be undertreated for heart disease risk factors. Presentation also differs between genders. Women are more likely to present with atypical symptoms, causing a heart attack to be missed. Symptoms of a heart attack may include shortness of breath, lightheadedness, pain or discomfort in one or both of arms, and pain or discomfort in the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Young women are also the most common victims of spontaneous coronary artery dissection — a relatively uncommon type of heart attack that kills otherwise healthy patients. Common risk factors of SCAD include recently giving birth, underlying blood vessel conditions such as fibromuscular dysplasia, extreme physical exercise and severe emotional distress.

While researchers have yet to pinpoint exactly why more young adults are losing their lives to a heart attack, it’s important to remember that prevention plays the biggest role in reducing your heart attack risk. It’s estimated that more than 70 percent of heart attacks could be prevented by:

  1. Eating a healthy diet
  2. Maintaining a normal BMI
  3. Getting at least 2.5 hours of exercise each week
  4. Watching television seven or fewer hours per week
  5. Not smoking
  6. Limiting alcohol intake to one drink or less per day