Can young people have heart attacks?

Several dangerous cardiac conditions can affect young people. They can have electrical problems, which can result in sudden death. They may also be born with an abnormal valve. They may have an abnormal communication between the two heart chambers, or their heart muscles may be thick.

If you have a family history of these conditions, talk to your doctor about them and watch for warning signs. If you start having unusual symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath during minor activities, swelling, dizziness or episodes of passing out, see your doctor. There's always some treatment available. Some of the conditions may require surgery, but most of them can be managed by medications.

Dr. Holly S. Andersen, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Heart disease can lead to heart attacks and strokes. It’s a myth that heart disease is something that only happens to older men. It’s a shame there is that stigma attached to the disease. Actually, research data show that heart disease is increasing among our youngest adults. It is probably increasing fastest among young women age 29-50. Those women mostly have no idea that heart disease is even a possibility. Unfortunately, more women die of heart disease every year than all cancers combined. More women die of heart disease than breast cancer at every age.

However, we’ve made great strides in heart disease research and death rates because the condition has been decreasing for decades in men and, more recently, in older women.

While the risk of heart attack rises with age, very rarely children, teens and young adults can have heart attacks. Interventional cardiologists—doctors with special training to reopen blocked arteries with procedures such as angioplasty and stenting—commonly see patients in their 40s, and sometimes in their 30s, who arrive at the hospital and are having heart attacks. These patients sometimes do not have the “classic” risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes and a history of smoking, for example.

The lesson is that just because someone is not “old” that does not mean that symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath are not signs of a heart attack. Listen to your body, and be aware that heart attack symptoms may be just that: signs of a heart attack. If you are a young woman you should be particularly aware that factors such as smoking and hormonal changes related to early menopause, pregnancy and birth control pills may put you at risk for heart disease. If you are young—whether male or female—do not let a perception that heart attacks happen to older people stand in the way of seeking treatment. It is better to have a doctor tell you that you do not have heart disease than it is to risk your life by letting heart disease go untreated.

Unfortunately, both old and young people can have heart attacks. Even pediatricians now are screening for cardiovascular-related issues.

Dr. Gregory G. Pellizzon, MD
Interventional Cardiologist

Young adults can have heart issues, and doctors increasingly see young adults developing heart disease as a result of obesity. As people get heavier and carry more weight, they experience the hormonal and inflammatory effects of obesity, and the risk factors for heart disease therefore rise. Now, doctors are seeing earlier heart failure and heart attacks in adults. There is also an increased risk of arrhythmia or sudden death from heart disease, which goes often unrecognized. It's really starting to affect a lot of younger adults.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.