Is There Such thing as “Too Young” for a Heart Attack?


Heart attacks sometimes strike before you even know it and experiencing one can be a very scary situation for anyone. Heart attacks are mostly thought of as a health issue related to senior citizens, with the average age of heart attack victims being 65-72 years old. However, the truth is that they can occur within younger age groups as well. One in five people who experience a heart attack are less than 40 years old. The number of people under 50 who experience heart attacks has been increasing in recent years, so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of heart attacks, as well as the preventative measures against them.

With more than 800,000 people experiencing heart attacks each year, heart attacks continue to remain the country’s leading reason for deaths. One of the biggest reasons for this is the inability to recognize the signs of a heart attack early enough to get immediate help. While some heart attacks may strike fast with symptoms quickly evolving, most come on very slowly. Many times, people don’t know they are experiencing a heart attack before it’s too late. With this in mind, what are the early signs of a heart attack?

  1. Chest pressure: Many heart attack victims report their chest pressure pain as feeling like their chest is full, heavy or being squeezed. It’s important to note that chest pressure does not always have to be consistent. Often, the chest pressure will disappear for a few minutes before coming back.
  2. Upper body discomfort: Many patients report experiencing pain in their upper back, neck, jaw or stomach alongside the chest pressure.
  3. Shortness of breath.
  4. Other common signs include dizziness, cold sweats and nausea.

Although these symptoms are not exclusive to heart attacks, it’s best to pay attention to your body if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

More women than men die from heart attacks each year in the US. This is partly due to the fact that women don’t often experience the traditional signs and symptoms of a heart attack as mentioned in the article. Women may feel more pressure or fullness in the chest, unlike “an elephant standing on my chest.” Women can experience upper abdominal pressure or discomfort, back pain, unusual fatigue, pain in the back of the neck.

Diabetics may also not experience the traditional signs and symptoms, primarily due to diabetic neuropathy in the chest and arms. Those in this population who may experience unusual feelings of nausea, fatigue and dizziness, should call 911 ASAP.

If you are experiencing multiple symptoms and chest pressure continues for at least five minutes, it is recommended to call for help immediately.

There are many underlying causes for heart attacks, but as previously discussed, heart attacks can happen in a wide age range and are not specific to a single factor. Recent studies have shown there are nine main causes of heart attacks. The good news: You can do something about all of them.

  1. Smoking: Smoking raises blood pressure levels as well as cholesterol levels, both of which are leading factors for heart attacks.
  2. High cholesterol: High cholesterol causes fatty deposits to build up in your blood vessels. Over time, these deposits grow and make it hard for blood to flow effectively through the arteries. The deposits may also break in your vessels causing blood clots that result in a heart attack.
  3. Diabetes: People with diabetes experience extreme swings in blood sugar levels. These swings from high to low or vice versa cause damage to the body and increase the risk for “silent” heart attacks.
  4. High blood pressure: High blood pressure causes extensive strain and damage to the body over time. Regardless of whether high blood pressure builds up over time or appears more quickly, you are at high risk for a heart attack either way. Dangerously high blood pressure, also known as hypertensive crisis, can cause heart attacks to happen much more quickly and is accompanied by other symptoms.
  5. Stress: Chronic stress can put strains on the body such as high blood pressure levels, which increases the risk for heart attack.
  6. Obesity: Obesity, which is now recognized as an inflammatory condition, can lead to conditions that increase the risk for heart attacks. A few of these conditions include high cholesterol, high blood sugar and diabetes.
  7. Lifestyle habits: Lack of exercise can increase your risk for heart attack by 50 percent.
  8. Diet: If your diet regularly includes many foods high in sugar or saturated fat, you may want to reconsider your options. Consuming foods with high sugar or saturated fat makes it more likely for plaque to build up in your arteries.
  9. Alcohol: High alcohol consumption can raise the levels of fat in your blood, also known as triglycerides. Combined with cholesterol, a high level of triglycerides can cause fatty plaque to build up in the arteries.

What Can I Do to Prevent a Heart Attack?

As mentioned previously, the causes listed above can be prevented with the careful implementation of strategies. If you realized that one or more factors applied to you while reading the last paragraph, don’t panic. It’s not too late to start making some heart-healthy choices.

  1. Cut out the junk: Limit your intake of things that are not good for your body. This includes smoking and alcohol consumption. Try to replace these factors with a different, healthier option. It’s no secret that consuming alcohol is popular among many adults, but it’s important to be aware of which beverages may be negatively affecting your heart. Limiting your intake does not have to mean cutting alcohol out of your life completely. Hey, even a little red wine can be considered a heart-healthy choice!
  2. Eat a more balanced diet: While foods that are high in sugar or fat may be tempting sometimes, try to replace them in your diet as often as you can with a healthier alternative. There are plenty of delicious heart-healthy snacks that can help you decrease the risk of a heart attack. A few options include red apples, avocados, tomatoes, berries and lettuce. Some other options not included in the “fruits and veggies” category are salmon, black beans and walnuts. The possibilities are endless.
  3. Take a walk: Exercising can be as simple as taking a stroll around the neighborhood. This small act of exercise can significantly reduce the likelihood of a heart attack. Exercising also reduces the chances of developing other heart attack related issues such as severe obesity and chronic stress.
  4. Find ways to unwind: Adults are constantly struggling to find a balance between their careers, families, social events and other obligations. It’s very common to find yourself feeling stressed with so many things on your “to-do” list. Finding ways to unwind and reduce stress and the strain it puts on your body can reduce your risk for a heart attack.

It is also good to learn to use Hands-Only CPR (CPR without mouth-mouth) if you have a loved one who has had a previous heart attack and only takes two minutes to learn.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, don’t wait to get help. At UofL Health, our seven, conveniently located Emergency Departments are open 24/7 to provide you with around-the-clock care for all your heart needs and concerns.

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Article by:

Greg Brislin, MS, CES, CEM, CSCS

Greg Brislin, MS, CES, CEM, CSCS, is the chest pain coordinator for UofL Health – Jewish Hospital. He is responsible for maintaining UofL Health’s accreditation for care of heart attack patients. His role includes outreach education to the community at large about Early Heart Attack Care (EHAC ®) and CPR. He received his master’s degree in exercise science from the University of Louisville. Brislin has worked with heart patients for most of his career in Cardiac Rehab and as an instructor for CPR and First Aid. Brislin is published in both peer reviewed journals and books on exercise training and served 15 years as the chair for the Physiology Research Advisory Team for USA Volleyball.

All posts by Greg Brislin, MS, CES, CEM, CSCS