We have the power to prevent life-threatening heart attacks, based on a recent study that found most young adults suffering their heart attack have at least one known risk factor like smoking or high cholesterol. The study included nearly 1.5 million U.S. adults who suffered their first heart attack before age 60 and highlights the importance of prevention, screening and treatment beginning at a young age.
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study explored the role of modifiable risk factors in heart attack risk among young adults. The goal was to see whether risk for a first heart attack may be largely within our control or if it stems from factors we can’t change such as age, race and family history.
In total, the study included 1,462,168 young adults treated for their first heart attack between 2005 and 2015. Data came from a national database called the U.S. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, which tracks inpatient hospital stays throughout the United States and contains a range of information about patient demographics, diagnoses and outcomes.
Patients in the recent analysis were between 18 and 59 years old, although most (80%) were between the ages of 45 and 59.
After analysis, researchers found that smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol were the most common modifiable risk factors affecting 50–60% of participants. When including other top risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking and drug abuse, that statistic climbed to more than 90%.
Researchers also found that risk factors became increasingly common among patients during the decade-long study. The only exception was for high cholesterol rates, which decreased towards the end of the study.
What findings show, according to authors, is that nearly all young adults had existing cardiovascular risk factors before their first heart attack. And these risk factors are things we can control through diet, exercise and treatment.
Findings are promising, as they suggest young adults have the power to prevent heart attack. By preventing or treating risk factors, it’s possible that young adults can help prevent—or at the very least delay—their first heart event.
However, data also suggests that modifiable risk factors like obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol have become increasingly common in recent years. According to authors, it will take better screening, education, treatment and prevention to help combat these trends and improve public health.
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