Heart attacks are not exclusive to older people. It can happen to anyone, and research shows it is happening more often in young people than ever before.
When you think of someone having a heart attack, you probably picture it striking an older person. But research recently presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session found that more people younger than 40 are having heart attacks, and the number has been growing 3.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Heart Attack at 22?
Every year, some 790,000 Americans have a heart attack — one person every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 24. Can you have a heart attack at 22? It is possible, says Jeff Johnson, MD, FACC, a cardiologist at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville
“The risk factors for heart attack are the same in young people as for older adults: smoking, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, sedentary lifestyle. Family history is also a risk factor,” he explains. He recommends everyone older than 21 get heart health screenings, especially if they have any of the risk factors or a family history of heart problems. Regardless of someone’s age when they have their first heart attack, people young and old have the same risk for death from another heart attack or stroke 4.
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Protect Your Heart Health
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) advises limiting sodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars and alcohol 1. Focus on heart-healthy foods, including vegetables such as greens and broccoli, whole grains such as oatmeal and rice, proteins such as lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds. Choose fruit when you are craving something sweet.
Add Physical Activity to Your Routine: Incorporating regular time for movement can lower many risk factors associated with heart disease, including reduction of bad cholesterol levels, increase in good cholesterol, management of high blood pressure and help maintaining a healthy weight loss, notes NHLBI 6. Aim for at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise every week. You can break this into 10-minute increments if needed — just keep moving! Talk with your doctor to determine any risks or limitations before you begin a new exercise program.
Stop Smoking: Smoking leads to build-up in arteries, which can boost your risk of heart attack, the NHLBI points out 45. Talk with your doctor if you need help to stop smoking. There are products, support groups and various programs available to help you achieve the goal of quitting.
Read more: Can You Do Cardio Exercise Every Day?
Know the Signs of a Heart Attack
A heart attack may look different than what you've seen on TV. Chest pain is the most common symptom, but according to the NHLBI, about a third of people who have heart attacks experience no chest pain.
Sometimes people are surprised to learn they have had a heart attack because their symptoms were not what they had expected a heart attack to feel like 4. Heart attack symptoms may happen suddenly or start slowly and build for hours, days or even weeks 4. They may cause extreme discomfort, mild pain or no pain at all. For someone having a second heart attack, it's possible that symptoms will be different from symptoms experienced during their first heart attack 4.
- Chest pain or discomfort near your heart, typically in the center or left side of the chest
- Shortness of breath that occurs at rest or with light activity
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained fatigue that could be present for days
- Pain or discomfort in the upper body — jaw, shoulders, neck, arms, back, or your upper belly.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Cold sweats
If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 911 without delay. The emergency service operator will send help and also give you advice on steps you can take that could minimize heart damage.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Heart Healthy Eating - Heart Healthy Lifestyle Changes"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Heart Disease - Heart Attack”
- American College of Cardiology: “Heart Attacks Increasingly Common in Young Adults"
- CDC: "Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms"
- NHLBI: "Smoking and Your Heart: How Does Smoking Affect the Heart and Blood Vessels?"
- NHLBI: "Physical Activity - Heart Healthy Lifestyle Changes"