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Heart Attack! Can It Happen to Young People?

Posted 04-04-2013 at 12:36 PM by ChristaIB
Updated 10-17-2013 at 12:00 PM by ChristaIB

Do young people have heart attacks? Are women at higher risk? Every year in the United States, more than 1,000 people between the ages of 35 and 44 experience coronary artery disease. Studies show that men have more heart attacks than women, even under age 50. However, women are more apt to die after suffering a heart attack.

One of the reasons women may be more likely to die after a heart attack is because symptoms of a heart attack in women may not be as obvious as they are in men. While a man may experience acute heartburn, chest pain or pain radiating down the left arm, a woman's symptoms can be much milder. A woman may feel fatigue, shortness of breath or lightheadedness and indigestion - symptoms that could easily be attributed to other causes, such as anxiety.

Because their symptoms don't obviously indicate a heart attack, women often delay seeking medical care - especially younger women. When they do seek medical care, these women can be misdiagnosed due to their gender, age and misleading symptoms.

You may have read in the news that Rosie O'Donnell suffered a heart attack at age 50. Like many women, she didn't take immediate action because she wasn't sure which signs to look for. Even after she read about heart attack symptoms online, she figured they didn't apply to her because she was so young. Rosie later learned she had suffered a heart attack. Because of her experience, Rosie has become very vocal on the topic of women and heart disease in an effort to raise awareness.

If you are under 40, age is on your side, but it is still important to know which symptoms to look for and seek timely treatment. You can lower your risk for heart disease by living a healthy lifestyle and raising your awareness of heart disease and heart health.

Here are some heart health facts to consider:

Know Your Genetics

High cholesterol, mitral valve prolapse and some cardiac arrhythmias can be inherited. These issues can be diagnosed on routine physical examinations, so if these conditions run in your family, you might want to make sure these tests are included in any testing you get at your next doctor visit.

Lower Your Cholesterol

Know your cholesterol numbers and keep them at a healthy level. High cholesterol is a primary cause of heart disease, so try to keep yours under 200 mg/dL. Ideally, you should aim to keep your good cholesterol (HDL) high, over 60 mg/dL, and the bad cholesterol (LDL) low, under 100 mg/d/L.

Manage Diabetes

Diabetes increases triglycerides, lipids or fat in your blood. If you have diabetes, be conscious of your baseline blood sugar level and your triglycerides. If you are at risk for diabetes, get tested regularly to try and catch the disease early so you can adjust your diet and begin early treatment.

Myocarditis: Know the Facts

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a viral infection. It can cause sudden death in otherwise healthy athletes, such as marathon runners. It can affect even younger athletes. A rapid heart rate is often the presenting symptom.

Get Your Exercise

Exercise regularly to keep your metabolism working efficiently and burning fat. This will lessen the workload on your heart.

Watch Your Diet

Eating fried food and too many fast food meals will raise your cholesterol and, in turn, clog your coronary arteries. Aim to consume a healthier daily diet by eating home-cooked meals more often and broiling or grilling food rather than frying it. And, save those fast-food meals for rare occasions rather than a daily staple.

Beware of Drugs

Cocaine is a common cause of heart attacks for people between the ages of 18 and 45. Regular use of cocaine and other drugs can raise blood pressure and the heart rate, causing cardiac arrhythmias. These cardiac arrhythmias can lead to heart attacks or strokes.

Heart Attack Symptoms to Look For:
  • Chest pain
  • Back pain
  • Nausea, indigestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue

Someone suffering a heart attack will typically experience more than one of these symptoms simultaneously. Should you experience any combination of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Keep in mind that these symptoms may lead to a mistaken diagnosis of an anxiety attack or other problem. If you suspect a heart attack, ask to be tested for one. Be smart, speak up, take care of yourself, and remember that you are not invincible, regardless of your age.

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