Current Guidelines Fail to Identify Young Adults at Risk for Early Heart Attack
Study highlights a missed opportunity for providing preventive treatment to young adults.
We need better tools to identify young adults in need of cholesterol-lowering statins, based on a recent study that found that most patients experiencing a heart attack before the age of 50 aren’t considered for this life-saving therapy.
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study looked at how well statin guidelines perform when applied to young heart attack survivors.
Statins help lower cholesterol levels and drastically reduce risk for life-threatening heart events. In addition to being used in patients with high cholesterol, they’re recommended as a way to prevent heart events in patients at increased risk for heart disease.
However, guidelines fall short in identifying young adults who could benefit from treatment, as recent findings show.
This study analyzed data from the YOUNG-MI registry, which included 1,475 young adults who experienced heart attacks between 2000 and 2016. Participants were 50 years of age or younger at the time of their heart attack and were enrolled at two large medical centers in Boston, MA.
The median age of participants was 45 and 20% were women.
After analysis, researchers found that the average ten-year risk of developing heart disease was low—less than 5%—among participants. 83% had at least one cardiovascular risk factor, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and family history of heart disease.
Despite these risk factors, current guidelines would have done little to identify these young participants at risk for heart attack.
Current guidelines take into account factors like age, cholesterol, history of heart disease and ten-year risk for developing heart disease. People flagged as having increased risk based on these factors are recommended statins to help lower their risk of heart events.
But when researchers applied the criteria to young heart attack survivors, less than half qualified for taking statins before their heart event. Guidelines performed especially poor for women, as 63% of women in the study would not have qualified for statins based on current criteria.
What this shows, according to authors, is that existing criteria for statin eligibility performs poorly in young adults. Part of the problem, as experts explain, is that age plays a big role in cardiovascular risk calculations. Since ten-year risk for developing heart disease is largely dependent on age, calculations can underestimate cardiovascular risk in young adults. Many young adults with a low ten-year risk of heart disease won’t meet criteria for statin use.
What we need, according to authors, is a better way to assess both cardiovascular risk and the need for statins in young adults. Statins are an important therapy for helping patients reduce risk for heart events. It’s important that all patients, including young adults, receive therapy when needed to help prevent future events.
Questions for You to Consider
- At what age should I worry about heart disease?
- Risk factors that lead to heart disease often develop slowly over time and can take decades to develop. That’s why it’s important to make healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthy, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight, at all stages in life. As an adult, it’s especially important to work closely with your doctor to monitor key risk factors and address any risk factors to reduce risk for heart disease.
- 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.