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Dec 13, 2011

Heart Attack Prevention Therapies May be Beneficial for Young Men and Women

Younger, healthier set found to be at high risk.

A heart attack occurs when a clot blocks the flow of blood through a coronary artery, starving the heart of oxygen and damaging heart muscle. If not treated immediately, heart attacks can be fatal or cause long-term damage to the heart and body. Because heart attacks are so serious, accounting for the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, prevention is key. Through lifestyle changes and medication, patients at risk can work with their doctor to help drastically reduce their risk for a first heart attack. And surprising findings show that younger adults may benefit from preventive therapies more than we might expect.

A recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida found that younger men and women are much less likely to use preventive therapies, yet may be at higher risk for a first heart attack than realized. Researchers leading this study analyzed data from more than 3,000 patients who had a heart attack over a seven-year period. They found that more than 2/3 of patients were not previously diagnosed with heart disease and among these patients, about 60% were men under the age of 55 and women age 65 and younger. Most importantly, these younger patients were nearly half as likely to be taking preventive therapies, such as statins and blood thinners, as those previously diagnosed with heart disease.

These findings highlight the need for a better assessment around who is considered high risk and qualifies for preventive therapies. While those with heart disease are already recommended various therapies to minimize risk for heart attack, such as blood thinners, beta blockers, statins and lifestyle changes, these therapies must be better applied among younger patients without heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • At what age are adults considered at highest risk for a heart attack?

  • Risk of heart disease and heart attack increase after age 45 for men and after age 55 (or after menopause) for women. However, other risk factors can increase cardiovascular risk despite younger age, such as family history, obesity and diabetes.
  • What medications are typically used to prevent a first heart attack?

  • A variety of medications exist that can help high risk patients reduce their heart attack risk. Blood thinning medications, such as aspirin, can help make the blood less sticky, lowering risk for a blood clot. Beta blockers can help lower heart rate and blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, can help lower cholesterol and keep the arteries clear. Lifestyle changes are also key, including quitting smoking (if a smoker), maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and managing stress.

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