The average age of people suffering the most severe form of heart attack is getting younger – a worrisome finding in a new study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Session.
The study, which looked at nearly 4,000 Cleveland Clinic patients from 1995 to 2014, found that the average age of those treated for ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) had dropped from 64 to 60.
A STEMI is the deadliest form of heart attack and occurs when one of the heart’s primary arteries becomes completely blocked by plaque.
The researchers also found significant increases in rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among the patients studied. The number of patients who had three or more of these risk factors for heart disease grew from 65 to 85 percent, the study found.
“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 Dr. Samir Kapadia, the study’s lead researcher, in a press release. “Prevention must be kept in the forefront of primary care.”
“It’s not an old man’s disease anymore,” says Dr. Siddharth Gandhi, an interventional cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “Heart disease affects men and women and now, unfortunately, at younger ages.”
Dr. Gandhi has seen this trend play out in his office.
“I’ve done interventions for people as young as 28,” Gandhi says. “Heart disease in young adults has become a significant concern.”
The study noted that many of the risk factors that lead to heart attacks can be reduced or reversed through lifestyle changes like a healthier diet, smoking cessation and increased exercise.
“When patients develop a healthier, more active lifestyle, that helps,” Gandhi said. “Heart disease is not a death sentence.”