Over the past two decades, people who experience a severe heart attack have become both younger and more obese. They also are more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes, according to new research set to be presented in April at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Session.
Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic looked at various risk factors for heart disease among more than 3,900 patients who were treated for the deadliest type of heart attack — known as ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) — between 1995 and 2014.
STEMI typically occurs when one of the heart’s main arteries becomes blocked by plaque, causing blood flow to stop. Though a person can survive with immediate medical attention, an attack comes with a very high risk of death.
In the study, the team divided the patient’s records into four groups, with each group signifying a five-year span.
During the first five-year span and the last five-year span, the average age of patients who had a STEMI fell from 64 to 60 and obesity rates increased from 31 to 40 percent. In addition, over that same period, heart attack victims who had diabetes rose from 24 to 31 percent and the percentage with high blood pressure increased from 55 to 77, Live Science reports.
The percentage of patients who smoked also rose from 28 to 46 percent and the proportion of patients with three or more risk factors for STEMI increased from 65 to 85 percent.
Many factors raise a person’s risk for STEMI and almost all of them are related to lifestyle choices. While the results of the study are grim, they show that risk can be reduced if the correct measures — such as eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, or increasing exercise — are taken.
“Don’t wait until you have a diagnosed heart problem to start taking care of yourself and paying attention to your lifestyle and dietary choices,” said Samir Kapadia, M.D., professor of medicine and section head for interventional cardiology at Cleveland Clinic, in a statement. “You should be working hard to avoid developing heart disease in the first place.”
While medical treatments for heart disease have greatly advanced over the years, the study shows that prevention is still the best method.
The team suggests that modifiable risk factors, like high blood pressure or smoking, need to be more directly addressed. Doctors, for instance, should try to better communicate with their patients about risk factors and the best way to limit them.
“On the whole, the medical community has done an outstanding job of improving treatments for heart disease, but this study shows that we have to do better on the prevention side,” Kapadia added.