Why do so many young people have heart attacks? Cardiologists say that most patients are under 40 years old, and some have barely turned 20

A heart attack is caused by a sudden loss of blood flow to part of the heart, usually due to a blockage of a coronary artery.

Heart attacks have become more frequent among young people over 40 years old PHOTO archive Adevărul

On the other hand, a cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping due to an abnormal and dangerous heart rhythm.

Between 10 and 20 percent of my heart attack patients are under the age of 40“, says Dr. Martin Lowe, consultant cardiologist at St. Bartholomew and the Portland Hospital, both in London.

In the United States, data show that about one in five heart attack patients is under the age of 40. When I was a resident doctor, it was extremely rare to see young people – most patients were smokers in their 50s and 60s“, Dr. Lowe also told the Daily Mail.

Dr Joe Mills, consultant cardiologist at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, added: “We've seen a trend for young people in their mid-20s to have heart attacks, especially in the last five years.”

Dr Lowe points out that several factors are to blame, including poor diet and obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, an increase in young people developing type 2 diabetes (which is associated with thicker, more viscous blood and increases the risk of blood clots and consequently of heart attacks), smoking and drinking alcohol.

Obesity often leads to high blood pressure, which can put extra strain on the arteries and heart, and sleep apnea (disordered breathing patterns at night that cause breathing to stop temporarily) can also lead to blood clots .

Stress, one of the main causes of heart attack

In general, we all live with stress, but it can trigger a heart attack or a change in heart rhythm in some people and not in others. I have noticed a huge increase in heart rhythm problems due to stress,” says Dr. Lowe.

Professor Thomas Lüscher, consultant cardiologist at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals in London, says stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, associated with responses of “fight or flight”, and this increases the heart rate and can cause the major coronary arteries to constrict.

This, in turn, can lead to the rupture of plaque (a substance made of fat and cholesterol that builds up inside the arteries), triggering the formation of clots inside the artery. As the clot grows, it can block blood flow and lead to a heart attack.

Young people who have heart attacks often have worse tests, Dr. Lowe says, and that's simply because they don't think they might be having a heart attack and so don't get treatment like having a stent placed in them. blocked artery to open it – fast enough to minimize long-term heart damage.

A delay in diagnosis increases the risk of a future, more powerful and often fatal heart attack (subsequent heart attacks are usually more severe, while one in three heart attacks is fatal), or heart failure (when the heart cannot pump the blood around the corresponding body).

If someone has chest pain that could be a sign of a heart attack, they should be seen by a doctor within 30 minutes to have the best chance of a full recovery and restoration of normal circulation, says Dr. Lowe.

Heart muscle cells deprived of oxygen can survive if blood flow is restored within 30 minutes; beyond this point, the cells die and are replaced by scar tissue.

The link between heart attack and female sex hormones

It's also important for people with risk factors or those with a family history of heart disease to check their blood pressure and cholesterol – around one in 250 people have a genetic condition that causes very high cholesterol levels not related to diet , known as familial hypercholesterolemia (FH).

Another factor for young women in particular is the risk of spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), where a bruise or tear occurs that cuts off blood flow and results in a heart attack.

This is impossible to predict or prevent.

It is estimated that four people a day in the UK have a heart attack due to SCAD, but they do not have the usual risk factors associated with heart disease and the condition is not fully understood.

Since 90% of affected patients are women, especially during pregnancy, after childbirth or around menopause, it is thought that fluctuating levels of female sex hormones may be the cause.