A heart attack happens when something blocks the blood flow to a part of the heart. This can hurt or kill the heart muscle and cause serious problems or death. Heart attacks are more common in older people, but they can also affect young people. In fact, some studies have shown that more young adults, especially women, are having heart attacks than before.
What causes heart attacks in young people?
There are many things that can make you more likely to have a heart attack at a young age. Some of them are:
Diabetes: Diabetes means you have too much sugar in your blood. This can harm the blood vessels and nerves that go to your heart. You may also have other things that can affect your heart, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
High blood pressure: High blood pressure means your heart and arteries have to work harder than normal. This can make them narrower and harder. This can reduce the blood flow to your heart and increase the chance of a clot forming.
Post infectious heart attack: Post infectious heart attack refers to a heart attack that occurs after an viral infection. Virus infection can cause inflammation throughout the body, including in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This can make the arteries more prone to develop fatty plaques and rupture, which can trigger blood clots and blockages. Virus infection can also increase the tendency of the blood to form clots, which can travel to the heart or other organs and cause damage. Virus infection can trigger an abnormal immune response that attacks the body’s own tissues, including the heart muscle or the lining of the blood vessels. This can cause inflammation, damage and scarring of the heart tissue, which can impair its function and increase the risk of arrhythmias and heart failure.
Overweight and obesity: Being overweight or obese can make you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and inflammation. All of these can hurt your heart. It can also change the size and function of your heart chambers, making them work harder and less well.
Smoking and vaping: Smoking cigarettes and vaping can damage the inside of your arteries and make them more likely to have plaque and clots. They can also lower the amount of oxygen in your blood and increase your heart rate and blood pressure.
Substance misuse: Using drugs or alcohol too much can affect your heart in different ways, such as causing irregular heartbeat, increasing blood pressure, causing inflammation and weakening the heart muscle.
Genetics: Some people may be born with a condition that affects their heart structure or function, such as a hole in the heart, a weak heart muscle or an abnormal heartbeat. These conditions can make your heart more sensitive to stress or damage.
How to prevent heart attacks in young people?
The good news is that many of the things that make you more likely to have a heart attack at a young age can be changed or controlled with lifestyle changes or medicine. Some of the things you can do to prevent heart attacks include:
Managing diabetes: If you have diabetes, you should check your blood sugar levels often and follow your doctor’s advice on food, exercise and medicine. You should also check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and keep them under control.
Lowering blood pressure: If you have high blood pressure, you should limit how much salt you eat, avoid smoking and alcohol, exercise regularly and take your medicine. You should also manage your stress levels and get help if you feel anxious or depressed.
Post infectious heart attack : If you have had recent viral infection, follow your doctor’s recommendations for treatment and recovery. Take your prescribed medications as directed and attend your follow-up appointments. If you have any symptoms or concerns, contact your doctor promptly. To prevent exposure to viral infections that can harm your heart, practice good hygiene habits such as washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face and covering your cough or sneeze. Also, avoid contact with people who are sick and get recommended vaccines. If you have a fever or other signs of infection, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Losing weight: If you are overweight or obese, you should try to reach a healthy weight by following a balanced diet that is low in fat, sugar and salt and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. You should also be more active and avoid sitting too much.
Quitting smoking and vaping: If you smoke or vape, you should quit as soon as possible, as this can greatly lower your risk of having a heart attack. You can get support from your doctor, family, friends or online resources to help you quit.
Avoiding substance misuse: If you use drugs or alcohol too much, you should stop or reduce how much you use, as this can improve your heart health and overall well-being. You can also get professional help if you have an addiction or a mental health problem that affects your substance use.
Knowing your family history: If you have a family history of heart disease or other genetic conditions that affect the heart, you should talk to your doctor about your risk and possible tests. You should also tell your doctor about any symptoms or signs of a heart problem, such as chest pain, trouble breathing, fast or irregular heartbeat or fainting.
When to contact a doctor?
Heart attacks in young people can be deadly if not treated quickly. Therefore, it is important to know the warning signs and call for emergency medical help if they happen. Some of the common symptoms of a heart attack include:
Chest pain or discomfort that may feel like pressure, squeezing, tightness or fullness. It may last for more than a few minutes or come and go.
Pain or discomfort in other parts of your body, such as your arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Trouble breathing or shortness of breath, with or without chest pain.
Feeling sick to your stomach, throwing up, having indigestion or stomach pain.
Sweating, feeling dizzy, lightheaded or fainting.
Feeling anxious, scared or like something bad is going to happen.
Some people may have different or mild symptoms that they may not think are related to a heart attack, such as feeling tired, weak, coughing or having trouble sleeping. Women, people with diabetes and older adults are more likely to have these symptoms. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to any changes in your body and not ignore or brush them off.
Heart attacks in young people are becoming more common and can have serious consequences. They are caused by different things that affect the blood flow to the heart, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, post infectious heart attack, obesity, smoking, substance misuse and genetics. Many of these things can be prevented or managed with lifestyle changes or medicine. It is also important to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and call for immediate medical help if they happen. By taking care of your heart health, you can lower your risk of having a heart attack at a young age and live a longer and happier life.
Dr. Karuturi Subrahmanyam, MD, FRCP (London), FACP (USA)
Internal Medicine Specialist
Phone : 85000 23456