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Heart Attack Among Young People On The Rise; Know About The Causes And Risk Factors

The untimely death of popular TV actor and Bigg Boss 13 winner Sidharth Shukla at the age of 40 due to a massive heart attack has shocked not only the entertainment industry but every individual who read the news. Mr Shukla's death has caused several health experts to highlight the rising number of deaths caused by heart attacks in young people.

A heart attack occurs when then blood flow to the heart is blocked. It can be defined as the death of heart muscles due to the lack of blood supply. This usually happens when a blood clot blocks the artery supplying the heart muscle.

The blockage develops as a result of the build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances, which creates plaque in the arteries and hence block the blood flow by breaking away to form clots. Also called a myocardial infarction, heart attacks are serious medical emergencies that require immediate medical attention [1].

In most cases, a heart attack occurs as a result of ageing; however, in recent years, there has been a rise in the number of young people suffering from heart attacks. While men aged 45 or older and women aged 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women, the recent numbers say otherwise. In India, the number of people dying of heart attacks has been on the rise since 2014, with reports suggesting that the incidental risk has elevated by 53 per cent in 5 years' time.

Let's take a look into the reasons why so many young people are suffering from heart attacks.


Heart Attack Among Young People

Heart problems today are not just diseases of the adults and the elderly, but a large number of youngsters are developing heart problems too. Experts link this to the sedentary lifestyle and lack exercise [2].

The data shows that heart attacks and heart-related health problems are becoming more common in the younger age group than it was 10-15 years back [3]. And the last few years have observed a rise in the incidence, with even reports of heart attacks in 18- and 20-years olds surfacing [4].


Causes Of Heart Attack In Young People

Global data shows that the proportion of under-40 adults having a heart attack rose by 2 per cent a year for the last ten years [5]. Cardiac conditions cause heart attacks. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease, a condition that clogs coronary arteries with fatty plaques. The build-up of various substances can narrow the coronary arteries and develop coronary artery disease, which is the primary cause of heart attack.

Heart attacks can also be caused by a torn blood vessel, and in very rare cases, it has happened due to a blood vessel spasm. Here are the primary reasons why a build-up or rupture develops:

  1. Smoking: Termed as one of the biggest risk factors for coronary artery disease among the young, smoking increases the risk of heart attack by double when compared to those who do not smoke [6]. One study even pointed out that smoking increases the risk of developing heart-related health problems eight times [7].
  2. Stress: While normal levels of stress are manageable, excessive stress is viewed as one of the major causes of a sudden heart attack [8].
  3. Obesity: As obese individuals require more blood to supply oxygen and nutrients to their bodies, it causes an increase in blood pressure - a common cause of heart attack [9].
  4. Lifestyle: Heart attacks are largely becoming a lifestyle disease. Eating a diet high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol, lack of exercise and other unhealthy living patterns have been linked to heart attacks in young people [10].

Risk Factors For Heart Attack In Young People

According to doctors, the rising number of sudden cardiovascular complications are primarily due to the changing modern lifestyles and sedentary habits, which is on the rise, especially since the COVID-19 lockdown [11]. The risk factors that can increase the chances of a heart attack in young people are as follows:

  • Smoking and excessive tobacco usage
  • Sedentary lifestyle (physically inactive)
  • Poor diet
  • Stress
  • Family history or a genetic risk
  • Obesity and high BMI (Body Mass Index) levels
  • Substance abuse or excessive alcohol use
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • Clinical depression [12]
  • Signs Of A Sudden Heart Attack

    The signs of a sudden heart attack are as follows [13]:

    • Pressure and tightness in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck and jaw
    • Nausea
    • Cold sweat
    • Sudden dizziness
    • Fatigue
    • Note: These are the common symptoms of a sudden heart attack. However, that does not mean that every individual will have the same symptoms.


How To Prevent Heart Attacks?

According to experts, paying attention to one's lifestyle, diet, and regular habits can help prevent the onset of heart-health problems. Dr Vivek Jawali, Chairman, Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at Fortis Hospitals, Bengaluru, says, "a few steps like morning walk, healthy eating, physical activity, avoid smoking and reduced weight will help prevent heart problems. Check for your ideal weight on your BMI and try to maintain the weight accordingly. The BMI measures weight in kilogram and measures height in metres. Divide weight by height. The ratio which they get should be between 18.5 - 23.9." He also added, "If the BMI is beyond this, they must work on their weight.

Here are some points that can help you prevent the onset of heart attacks and other heart-health related problems [14]:

  • Include more raw food (fruits and vegetables) in your diet. About six palmfuls of fruits and vegetables should be consumed every day.
  • Cut down on sugar and carbohydrate and completely avoid junk food.
  • Decrease the amount of salt in foods.
  • If you are feeling stressed, learn about ways to manage it, such as yoga, meditation, or talk to a therapist [15].
  • Completely stop the habit of smoking.
  • Avoid over-working and spend time for yourself every day.
  • Include regular physical activity for at least 30-45 mins, five days a week. Incorporate cardio workouts such as cycling, running, swimming, etc.
  • Have regular check-ups at the hospital and talk to your doctor regarding any doubts.

On A Final Note…

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart problems are the number one cause of death globally. However, one needs to understand that heart diseases can be prevented with certain precautionary measures. A healthy diet, regular exercise and leading a stress-free life are the key factors to prevent heart problems. A glass of red wine or a moderate amount of alcohol is allowed; however, do not eat junk food along with alcohol.

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