Days after Luke Perry’s death at 52 from a stroke, a new study on heart-attack rates has another grim reminder that the young are far from invincible — and maybe even more vulnerable than they used to be.
Heart-attack rates are rising for adults under age 40, researchers found after comparing data of heart attack survivors ages 41 to 50 with those survivors who were 40 and younger.
The youngest patients were more likely to use marijuana and cocaine compared to slightly older counterparts, even if they drank less alcohol.
In fact, the proportion of heart-attack patients under age 40 has been climbing 2% every year for the last 10 years, according to findings presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session last month.
The researchers tried to unearth the risk factors explaining the rise and said substance abuse might share part of the blame. The youngest patients were more likely to use marijuana and cocaine compared to slightly older counterparts, even if they drank less alcohol.
“It seems that we are moving in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Ron Blankstein, a Harvard Medical School professor and a preventive cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
It was once “incredibly rare” to see heart attack patients under age 40, Blankstein noted. But some heart patients coming into emergency rooms now were in their 20s and early 30s, he said. He examined patient treatment information for over 2,000 people hospitalized from 2006 to 2016.
Although some heart attack patients were younger, they had the same risks of subsequent death from a repeat heart attack or stroke as patients in their 40s.
It was once ‘incredibly rare’ to see heart attack patients under age 40, but some heart patients coming into emergency rooms now were in their 20s and early 30s.
—Ron Blankstein, a Harvard Medical School professor
About 735,000 Americans suffer heart attacks every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 600,000 people die annually from heart disease, which encompasses heart attacks plus several other types of conditions. It’s America’s leading cause of death.
There’s evidence stroke rates are climbing for younger Americans though strokes often target older individuals, according to Dr. Mitchell S.V. Elkind, chair of the American Stroke Association Advisory Committee. Strokes like the one that killed Luke Perry take the lives of 140,000 people annually in America.
The authors of the current findings said fewer heart attacks are happening in America, thanks to statins and less smoking, and that’s in spite of the country’s obesity epidemic. Nevertheless, the upward trend for the younger demographics was troubling.
“It all comes back to prevention,” Blankstein said. “Many people think that a heart attack is destined to happen, but the vast majority could be prevented with earlier detection of the disease and aggressive lifestyle changes and management of other risk factors.”
He advised a good diet, exercise, avoiding tobacco and swearing off “cocaine and marijuana because they’re not necessarily good for your heart.”