Huge rise in under-40s suffering heart attacks, study finds

Huge rise in Americans under 40 suffering heart attacks: Rate has ticked up 2% a year since 2000 due to rise in poor diet, marijuana and cocaine abuse

  • The overall rate of cardiovascular events has dropped thanks to fewer people smoking cigarettes and more older people taking statins
  • But data from Brigham & Women’s Hospital show the rate is rising in younger Americans
  • Younger sufferers are more likely to have high cholesterol and abuse marijuana
  • They are no more likely to survive, but they are more often discharged without statins or aspirin 

Heart attack rates are rising in Americans under the age of 40, alarming new data reveal. 

Experts attribute the shift to traditional factors – such as high cholesterol and diabetes – but also to abuse of substances like marijuana and cocaine, which is increasingly common among younger heart attack sufferers. 

The overall rate of cardiovascular events has dropped thanks to fewer people of all ages smoking cigarettes and more older people taking statins.

However, research being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference next week shows this progress has overshadowed an ominous shift.

Between 2000 and 2016, the rate of under-40s having heart attacks rose 2 percent a year. 

What’s more, to the researchers’ surprise, younger sufferers were no more likely to survive the attack than older sufferers. 

The overall rate of cardiovascular events has dropped thanks to fewer people smoking cigarettes and more older people taking statins. But data show the rate is rising in younger Americans

‘It used to be incredibly rare to see anyone under age 40 come in with a heart attack–and some of these people are now in their 20s and early 30s,’ said senior author Ron Blankstein, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. 

‘Based on what we are seeing, it seems that we are moving in the wrong direction.

‘It’s really important for us to understand why people are actually having heart attacks at a younger age, when there is even more productive life lost.’ 

The study included 2,097 young patients under the age of 50 who had been admitted to one of two large hospitals after suffering a heart attack. 


Young heart attack victims who also have diabetes fare much worse

In a related study, Dr Blankstein and his team found that one in five patients who suffer a heart attack at a young age overall (under 50) also have diabetes. 

Data show that if someone has diabetes they are more likely to die and have repeat events than heart attack survivors without diabetes. 

Not only is diabetes one of the strongest risk factors for having a heart attack, it also predicts future events in young people who have previously had a heart attack. 

These patients need to be aggressively treated and clinicians should pay very close attention to all other modifiable risk factors.

The good news, Dr Blankstein said, is that there are now two classes of diabetes medications that have also been shown in clinical trials to significantly reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular events, including heart attack or stroke, or dying from one.

They were split into two groups – those under 40 (20 percent of them), and those between 40 and 50. 

Using patient angiograms (an X-ray to see the heart’s blood vessels and arteries), researchers could see that the younger heart attack sufferers were more likely to have disease in only one vessel, suggesting that their heart disease was fairly under control and in its early stages.  

They were also more likely to have a tear in the vessel wall, which is typically more common in women, and pregnant women in particular.

Blankstein was concerned that younger patients were often discharged without statins or aspirin to prevent future events.  

‘Even if you’re in your 20s or 30s, once you’ve had a heart attack, you’re at risk for more cardiovascular events and you have just as much risk as someone who may be older than you,’ Blankstein said. 

‘It all comes back to prevention.

‘Many people think that a heart attack is destined to happen, but the vast majority could be prevented with earlier detection of the disease and aggressive lifestyle changes and management of other risk factors.’ 

Blankstein recommends avoiding tobacco, exercising regularly, eating well, managing blood pressure and cholesterol, and avoid diabetes.

He adds: ‘Stay away from cocaine and marijuana because they’re not necessarily good for your heart.’