How Common are Heart Attacks in Young People?

Tips for Heart Attack Prevention

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Although no hard statistics are available, in the United States, the prevalence of heart attacks in the relatively young is rare: only approximately 40,000 of the 1.2 million heart attacks reported every year strike people between the ages of 35 and 44.

Until a young person actually has a heart attack, there may be no signs of cardiac problems. Gerald Fletcher, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Flo., says if there is no strong family background of early heart attacks, you should have nothing to worry about.

"If your mother and dad and your grandmother and granddad are alive at age 80 or 90, it's very unlikely [that you will have an early heart attack]," Dr. Fletcher says.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack, technically called a "myocardial infarction," is usually caused by the blockage of a coronary artery, an artery that carries blood to the heart, which impairs blood flow. The blockage can be created by plaque buildup, a blood clot or a spasm in the coronary artery itself. Age is also a risk factor; the chance of having a heart attack increases significantly in men after age 45 and in women after menopause or age 50.

Preventing a Heart Attack

Even if you have a strong family history of early heart disease, there are many ways to decrease your likelihood of having a heart attack:

  • Do not smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Reduce cholesterol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Alleviate stress.
  • Drink moderately, if at all.
  • Decrease high blood pressure.
  • Manage (or avoid) diabetes.

If heart disease runs in your family, it is imperative that you maintain the best possible overall health. Prevention can start as early as elementary school if doctors tested children's cholesterol levels -- but most don't.

"We could treat these kids at 10 and 12 with cholesterol drugs if their [cholesterol levels are] high to prevent this terrible problem," Dr. Fletcher says.

Routine physicals do not detect CAD. A poor pulse in the leg or neck may signal something is wrong, but it is not definitive. Even an EKG or chest x-ray won't show clogging arteries.

Symptoms You Could be Having a Heart Attack:

  • Pressure or squeezing in the chest
  • Pain or discomfort in arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach
  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Cold sweat, nausea, dizziness

Both men and women are likely to have chest discomfort or pain, but women are also more apt to experience breathing difficulties, nausea, and pain in the back or jaw. If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, call 911.

Related Articles


"ABCs of Preventing Heart Disease, Stroke and Heart Attack." 20 Mar 2008. American Heart Association.

Gerald Fletcher, MD. Phone Interview.

"Heart Attack." Aug 2008. St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. 16 Sep 2008. <

"Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)." 2008. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

"Heart Attack, Stroke and Cardiac Arrest Warning Signs." 2008. American Heart Association.

Misty Baldwin. Phone Interview.

Rallidis, LS, et al. "Long-Term Prognostic Factors of Young Patients (<=35 Years) Having Acute Myocardial Infarction: The Detrimental Role of Continuation of Smoking." European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation. 2 Sep 2008.

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