Studies are finding a growing number of men and women in their 20s and 30s who are developing heart disease, which is traditionally something thought of as affecting mainly men in their 50s and 60s.
“There does appear to be a small increase in heart disease related to coronary artery blockages [in those in their 20s and 30s], though clear statistics can be difficult to obtain,” Jean Swearingen, medical director at Student Health Services, said.
Swearingen explained that the increase is most likely due to the increase in obesity and diabetes, which can be associated with acceleration of the blockage of heart arteries.
“The blocking of heart arteries is usually more common as we age,” she said. “There are many other factors involved, however, including genetics, smoking, drug use and other medical conditions.”
The term heart disease can encompass a variety of conditions and can have many causes, she said.
“Some conditions included in the term heart disease are birth defects or infections, and coronary heart disease which can lead to heart attacks,” she added.
Most young adults don’t realize they are at risk of heart disease.
Nine out of 10 Americans between the ages of 18 to 24 believe they are living healthy lifestyles, but most eat too much fast food, drink too much alcohol and sugary beverages and engage in other risky behavior, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the American Heart Association.
“Some young adults do feel invincible at this age, or that they have plenty of time to improve on behaviors before they cause problems,” Swearingen said. “However, your current lifestyle choices can make a difference in your current and future health.”
Swearingen said smoking is a huge risk factor for heart disease and is one that younger individuals can easily avoid. Also eating raw foods such as fruits and vegetables can lower the odds of heart disease.
“Plus, avoiding use of street drugs can lower chances of heart disease. Cocaine is associated with causing heart attacks. Plus, getting regular exercise can help keep your heart healthy and help avoid obesity,” she added.
Although the risk for those in their 20s and 30s to suffer from heart disease has increased slightly, the risk is still very low in young adults.
“It is rare for anyone in their 20s or early 30s to have a heart attack,” she said.
She explained the most common form of heart disease in anyone is a heart attack which is most often caused by blockage in a coronary artery. The coronary artery supplies the heart muscle with blood and oxygen.
Classic symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, sometimes radiating to the left arm. Also, shortness of breath, sweating and dizziness, she said.
“If someone thinks they may be having a heart attack, call 911 for emergency transport to the hospital,” she added.
For more information on heart disease, contact Student Health Services at (309) 438-8655.