Young adults are having heart attacks more often — What’s causing it?

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. In the last few decades, though, with advances in the prevention and management of coronary artery disease, the occurrence of heart attacks in older adults has been declining.

Alarmingly, the occurrence of heart attacks and other forms of heart disease among younger adults (ages 20 to 50) is increasing. The increase in cardiovascular problems in this group, in 2020 and 2021, was so great that it contributed to declines in life expectancy.

So, what’s causing this disturbing trend? There’s evidence that these heart conditions are the consequences of poor food choices and lack of exercise. Here’s what to know about the signs of heart disease, what to look for, and what to do to avoid the largely preventable fallout resulting from unhealthy habits:

Heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) occur when the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen. Usually, the cause is partial or complete blockage of blood supply to some part of the heart. Symptoms in younger adults are the same as those in older adults, including chest pain or discomfort, which may radiate into the arms, jaw, neck, or back, shortness of breath, and weakness or feeling faint.

Other forms of heart disease include cardiomyopathy (thickened heart muscle), irregular, abnormal heart rhythms, and heart failure.

Heart illustration with magnification of the artery
Heart illustration with magnification of the artery. Heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) occur when the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen. (credit: American Heart Association)

Research published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2019 assessed more than 2,000 young adults hospitalized for heart attacks from 2000 through 2016. The study found that 20 percent (1 in 5 people) occurred in patients 40 years-old or younger. These patients had the same risk as older adults to die from another heart attack, stroke, or other condition.

The increasing prevalence of heart disease is greater in young women than in young men. The women are more often Black, and have a history of diabetes, chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure, or a previous stroke.

Research shows that healthcare providers are prone to not taking the signs of heart disease in women as seriously as in men. They often pay less attention to managing risk factors, especially by prescribing fewer risk-reducing medications, according to a 2019 study in the journal Circulation.

The biggest risk factors for young adults

People are developing risk factors for heart disease earlier in life. Most younger adults who developed heart problems were thought to be in generally good health before their heart attacks. They were found, however, to have at least one condition which had put them at risk for a cardiac event. The greatest risk factors are:

There may be some genetic influences contributing to these conditions. Most, however, are the consequences of harmful lifestyle habits, which often start during childhood, says Eugene Yang, chair of the American College of Cardiology Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases Council. Tobacco, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol use also increase the risk of heart attacks in younger adults.

COVID-19 has its own way of contributing to heart disease. It triggers the body’s inflammatory response, making blood thicker and stickier. Blood clots can form, clogging arteries and causing heart attacks. In 2022, The Journal of Medical Virology reported that heart attack deaths rose 14 percent during the first year of the pandemic. The greatest increase occurred in patients between the ages of 25 and 44. Why there was such a change in this age group is still unknown.

Research shows that about half of people under age 45 don’t think they could be at risk for heart disease. It can be a tough job to convince younger adults about heart disease and risk factors when they’re still focused on building careers and establishing families.

Life’s Essential 8 can save young adults

The three “P”s for reducing heart disease in younger adults are prevention, prevention, and prevention. The American Heart Association recommends following eight lifestyle habits they call “Life’s Essential 8”:

  • Healthy diet
  • No tobacco
  • Regular exercise
  • Sufficient sleep
  • Weight management
  • Watch cholesterol levels
  • Monitor blood pressure
  • Follow blood sugar levels

So, young readers, make having a primary healthcare provider one of the features of the map you’re creating to navigate life. Check in with that provider at least once a year, or as recommended for you individually. A family medicine provider can care for everyone in the family.


About the Author

Dr. Faith Coleman

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Dr. Coleman writes on health, medicine, family, and parenting for online information services and educational materials for health care providers.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer

Comments

  1. Probably the number of ADHD drugs prescribed to young adults virtually during the pandemic. Prescription drug for psychiatric disorders are out of control. Popping like candy.

  2. Any honest person understands why there has been an epidemic of heart attacks among athletes, young people, and fit middle aged people which spontaneously surfaced after government, medical, and corporate authorities colluded and forced the public through economic blackmail to take the MRNA shot (NOT a vaccine).
    Quit lying to us. We are wise to you.

  3. Shameless nits these wanton violators of the Nuremberg Code are. Heads stuck deep in the sand. We are coming for you, rest assured. You aren’t going to get away with the crimes you have commuted and still seek to cover up. Heart attacks up amongst youth: Doctors Baffled. Oh really? I’m not baffled. I’m not baffled at all. Occam’s razor, to your necks, criminals.

  4. Simple question that researchers refuse to ask. What is the % increase in Vaxed vs. Unvaxed people. And did they think to check the VAERS website to correlate any data? Nope, won’t look there.

  5. When the covid jabs were rolled out, Pfizer, moderna, and j&j came packaged with inserts left completely blank. Large pieces of folded thin paper with zero warnings. I have a moderna insert and the only words printed on it are ” this intentionally left blank”. Now, in 2024, vaccine manufacturers are informing you that their products ” can cause myocarditis and pericarditis “.

    Apparently this article hasn’t received the update.

  6. I am sorry for everyone that was pressured to get the shots and boosters in order to keep their jobs or out of fear. It was totally unconstitutional and violated all human and civil rights to take an experimental and dangerous, unproven, untested drug against your will, No government, medical agency, private party or global agency can force something like this on your body. It is against the Nurenburg code/treaty.

  7. There was a time when young people smoked weed and/or Marlboro Reds, Golds and Newports, drank Boone’s Farm and Wild Turkey, filled their cars with leaded glass, drank only sugar sodas (except for Tab and Fresca), Howard Johnsons’ Pancakes, educated in buildings with asbestos, ate butter, margarine, beef and pork. No history of heart attacks then. So, it makes sense that today people are dying because of lifestyle choices? Maybe it isn’t the shot – maybe it is having physicians that are chosen by race, not merit.

  8. Come to grips with the only possible explanation, doctor. It’s the experimental gene therapy. I knew a good kid who died from it.

  9. Seriously? They’re gonna pretend to be puzzled as to why? Just shot up in the past 3 years out the clear blue? Nothing else other than diet and inactivity is the cause? Newsflash, how about the mRNA shots crammed down kids throats? These guys must be funded by Pfizer.

  10. Do people really not know? Look up Tucker and Dr Weisman from like a month ago. Seriously, it’s like 2 different humans today: those that know and those that don’t cause they only hear CNN and “doctors”. Wake up!

  11. Hahaha….Unreal! U guys understand that they are just playing with the dates , like 2020, so its looks like it started earlier….U can comprehend that, right? Simply the greatest crime ever committed on Humankind. U understand that some of those “Vaccines”/hahaha/ are banned already all over the world ?Mutating BioWeapon, will be here Forever. Thanks Dr Anthony Mengele Fauci. Enjoy it America!

  12. Glad to see so many readers here in the comments section are awake and know when they’re being gaslighted by the media.

  13. My guess is only a few at the very top had any inside knowledge about the vaccine.

    The more people they told the harder to keep the secret. Do you really think the people that said very publicly on the Georgia GuideStones we need to keep the population at 500 million to stay in balance with nature care about the people below them? With 8 BILLION people on the world they would have to get rid of 7.5 BILLION to teach their goal. Very “famous” monument. Look it up


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