Americans under 40 suffering heart attacks at alarming rate

Americans under 40 suffering heart attacks at alarming rate

BOSTON — Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital found young people are dying of heart attacks in growing numbers.

Preventative cardiologist Dr. Ron Blankstein recently authored a study showing the heart attack rate among Americans under the age of 40 is rising dramatically, even though the heart attack rates across the board have been falling.

"These are often individuals when they have symptoms they may not think this is a heart attack, again it’s not on their radar at all," Blankstein said.

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The study found that among patients who suffer a heart attack at a young age, 1 in 5 were 40 or younger, and that number has risen 2% each year for the past decade.

Former Miss Teen Universe Lotte van der Zee died of a heart attack earlier this year at the age of just 20.

Boston 25 News anchor Chris Flanagan sat down with 29-year-old Jeffrey Barnes, who survived a heart attack two years ago.

The Rhode Island man said he has always been fit, especially during his 7 ½ years in the U.S. Army. "I was in great shape, never had any difficulties throughout that time physically that would even address this issue," said Barnes.

But Barnes' life changed dramatically when he suffered a heart attack during a firefighter agility test.  "It slowly graduated to be somebody twice my size just sitting on my chest and putting as much weight as possible on me. you can't even breathe,"  Barnes commented.

Barnes was only 27 at the time. "I couldn't even believe it. couldn't even fathom something like that could happen to somebody my age, honestly,"  he said.

Blankstein believes the increase in young heart attack victims has a lot to do with bad habits.  "Our lifestyle may be even more important than our genetics when it comes to the risk of developing a heart attack,"  he said.

Blankstein said the vast majority of heart attacks can actually be prevented, if you reduce your risk factors.  He recommends exercising regularly, limiting alcohol use, eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and not smoking.

Researchers say drug use also plays a significant role. Nearly 18% of the youngest patients in the study reported marijuana use.  Blankstein is worried the heart attack rate will continue to climb now that marijuana use is legal in Massachusetts.

"There is a concern where there’s a higher use of marijuana also there’s a concern with e-cigarettes that some of the increase the use of these substances will actually counterbalance the benefits we’ve witnessed with less smoking," he said.

Barnes has no history of drug use or smoking.  He also has no family history linked to heart attacks. Despite seeing his life flash before his eyes, the newlywed realizes he's lucky.

"100% I got a second chance at life and I cherish things so much more than you think. You take things for granted, but now you can't take anything for granted. Every day is a gift. Being with my wife is a gift. It's definitely great,"  Barnes said.

Blankstein said often young people don't recognize the signs of a heart attack. If you have chest discomfort or pain, often on the left side of the chest that feels like squeezing or pressure, you should see a doctor.