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May 11, 2016

Striking Trends Show Heart Attack Patients are Getting Younger, More Obese

Experts emphasize addressing cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes earlier in life.

Over the past 20 years, heart attack patients have become younger, more obese and have more preventable risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes, according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Sessions.

This study analyzed cardiovascular risk factors in more than 3,900 heart attack patients treated at Cleveland Clinic between 1995 and 2014. Patients were treated for the most deadly type of heart attack called ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), which occurs when one of the heart’s main arteries becomes completely blocked. Despite advances in treatment, STEMI continues to carry a high risk of death and disability, making prevention of utmost importance.

To identify trends in baseline risk factors for heart attack, researchers divided records into five-year time spans. After analysis, researchers found that between the first five years and the last five years of the study, the average age of STEMI patients decreased from 64 to 40. In that same time period, the rate of obesity increased from 31 to 40 percent, the proportion of patients with diabetes increased from 24 to 31 percent, and high blood pressure rates grew from 55 to 77 percent. The proportion of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also increased from 5 to 12 percent.

Perhaps most striking, researchers found that the proportion of patients who smoked increased from 28 to 46 percent, despite national trends that reflect an overall decline in smoking rates.

Based on findings, authors highlight the importance of prevention. Although some cardiovascular risk factors are out of our control, such as age and family history, there are many more risk factors that we can change. Major risk factors for heart attack include an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, overweight and obesity, and smoking, all of which we can control. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes also increase risk for heart attack, so it’s important to address these conditions through healthy lifestyle choices and treatment, when necessary.

The earlier we address cardiovascular risk factors, the better, according to experts. “Don’t wait until you have a diagnosed heart problem to start taking care of yourself and paying attention to your lifestyle and dietary choices,” urges Samir Kapadia, MD, professor of medicine and section head for interventional cardiology at Cleveland Clinic and the study’s primary investigator.

“On the whole, the medical community has done an outstanding job of improving treatments for heart disease, but this study shows that we have to do better on the prevention side,” said Kapadia. “When people come for routine checkups, it is critical to stress the importance of reducing risk factors through weight reduction, eating a healthy diet and being physically active.”

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce my risk for heart attack?

  • You can significantly reduce risk for heart attack by knowing your numbers and addressing any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, including hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking. You can also help reduce cardiovascular risk by maintaining a healthy weight and heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly and controlling stress.
  • How is a heart attack treated?
  • Depending on the type of heart attack, treatment may include medication, non-invasive procedures, such as percutaneous coronary intervention (angioplasty), or a more invasive procedure called coronary artery bypass surgery.


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