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Heart Attacks Striking Younger, Heavier Americans

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Heart Attacks Striking Younger, Heavier Americans

Doctors and patients must work together to prevent cardiac disease

Heart attack victims in this country are getting younger and heavier, according to a new study. The average age of people suffering the deadliest heart attacks dropped from 64 years old to 60 years old over the past 20 years, Cleveland Clinic researchers found. And obesity is now implicated in 40 percent of severe heart attacks.

Heart attack sufferers are also more likely to be smokers and to have chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than patients of 20 years ago.

This new profile is disturbing.

“Lifestyle changes to reduce weight, eat right, exercise and quit smoking are critical for prevention of heart attack,” said senior researcher Samir Kapadia, M.D., a professor of medicine and section head of interventional cardiology at Cleveland Clinic. Doctors and patients at routine checkups should work together to make these heart-healthy changes, he said.

For the study, researchers analyzed heart disease risk factors among more than 3,900 patients treated for ST-elevation heart attacks (STEMI). This type of heart attack—which occurs when a main heart artery is completely blocked by plaque—carries a high risk of disability and death.

Researchers found that from 1995 to 2014, the average age of STEMI patients dropped from 64 to 60, and the prevalence of obesity increased from 31 percent to 40 percent. The proportion of heart attack patients with diabetes increased from 24 percent to 31 percent. High blood pressure and COPD also rose dramatically. And, perhaps most surprising, the researchers discovered smoking had increased from 28 percent to 46 percent of heart attack patients, though overall smoking rates in the United States have dropped over the past 20 years.

Also troubling: The proportion of patients with three or more risk factors increased from 65 percent to 85 percent.

The study’s findings match other recent data on heart attack patients.

“Primary care physicians and cardiologists have to work harder to provide education and specific programs to help reduce risk factors in the community to reduce the burden of heart attack,” Dr. Kapadia said. “Patients should take responsibility and place health as the highest priority to change their lifestyle in order to prevent heart attacks.”

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BHM Edit Staff