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Last updated December 2, 2017, originally published September 29, 2012

By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist

Heart attacks are just for older guys, right? Wrong. Every
34 seconds someone in the United States has a heart
attack, according to the American Heart Association.

With more than two million heart attacks and strokes
happening every year they seem inevitable after a certain
age and we have stopped being surprised when an older
person suffers. But when a 30- or 40-year-old man is the
victim of a heart attack, we sit up and pay attention.
Several recent reports show high school athletes, young
fathers, and runners in their thirties suffering heart
attacks. Recently, Fabrice Muamba, 23-year old
professional footballer (or, as we say in America, "soccer
player") for the Bolton Club in the UK collapsed during a
game from a heart attack.

Heart attack is more common in older people but it is far
from rare in young guys. In fact, more than 150,000 heart
attack and stroke deaths each year are among people
younger than 65, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. Why do young men have heart
attacks? Are you at risk of an early heart attack? Did you
know that young guys are at increased risk for heart
attack because of certain sexually transmitted diseases?
What can you do now to protect your heart and stay
healthy into middle age and beyond?

How Young is Too Young?

Cardiovascular disease and heart attacks are very rare in
men too young to drive, according to Harvard Medical
School, but the risk rises after guys are old enough to
vote. Heart attack is labeled an older person’s condition
but it pays to know that risks still exist for younger men.

Harvard Medical School says up to 10 percent of all heart
attacks occur before the age of 45, and most of these
affect guys. Sobering statistics, but what can you do? Are
you genetically predisposed to early heart attack? Or does
your lifestyle affect your premature heart attack risk?

What Causes Heart Attacks?

Heart attack in young men can be broadly attributed to the
causes affecting older people although there are some
special circumstances that mainly affect young guys.
Putting it simply, a heart attack happens when blood flow
sending oxygen to your vital organ is reduced or cut off.
When your heart suffers from lack of oxygen it begins to
die. Coronary heart disease, often caused by
atherosclerosis, is a prime reason for heart attack at any
age. Blood clots and heart abnormalities also cause heart

Young guys also suffer heart attack following cocaine use
or the abuse of other drugs and amphetamines,
inflammation of the coronary arteries, radiation therapy
for chest tumors,  and chest trauma. (Update: Heart
attacks can also be caused by chronic abuse of anabolic
steroids to build freakishly large muscles, a condition
known as "bigorexia" .)

We’ve looked at the most common reasons for suffering a
heart attack in your thirties and forties, based on recent
scientific evidence.

Why Young Guys Have Heart Attacks

1. Coronary Artery Disease is the Most Common Reason
for Early Heart Attack

When you are older, your heart attack is nearly always
going to be caused by coronary artery disease, says
Harvard Medical School, and this disease is also the cause
of 80 percent of heart attacks in young adults. You are
more likely to have only one coronary artery affected if
you are young, while older men have the disease in two or
more arteries.

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to early heart attack.
A 2011 study of heart attack patients by the University of
Minnesota and the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott
Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis revealed 70 percent
of heart attack victims didn’t know they had coronary
heart disease prior to their heart attack and out of that
ignorant group, 60 percent were young men or women.
Young men are unlikely to be targeted for preventative
measures yet they make up a substantial proportion of the
heart attack population. Researchers say better methods
of risk prevention are needed to stop young men falling
through the heart attack net.

Heart Abnormalities Cause Heart Attacks in Early Age

Around four percent of heart attacks in young guys are
due to inborn coronary abnormalities, according to
Harvard Medical School. The most common cause of
sudden death in military recruits was an identifiable cardiac
abnormality (51 percent of the studied recruits) according
to a 2004 study by Brooke Army Medical Center, San
Antonio, Texas. Out of these structural cardiac
abnormalities coronary artery abnormalities (61 percent),
myocarditis (20 percent), and hypertrophic
cardiomyopathy (13 percent) were the culprits.

The crux of the matter is, you may not know you have a
heart defect until you suffer a heart attack, although
screening is available if you have other symptoms or a
history of heart abnormalities in your family.

Atherosclerosis and Heart Attack in Young Men

Atherosclerosis is otherwise known as hardening of the
arteries and it is caused by bad cholesterol building up in
the inner lining of the arteries and producing fatty deposits
and blockages. While a heart attack is sudden,
atherosclerosis itself is slow and it can develop in
childhood meaning even young men are at risk.

Here's a shocker --- even teenagers can have blocked
arteries. Atherosclerosis was identified in men as early as
age 15, according to results from a 1988 research group
made up of scientists from the Southwest Foundation for
Biomedical Research and The University of Texas Health
Science Center called the Pathobiological Determinants of
Atherosclerosis in Youth (PDAY) group.

The study looked at victims of accidents, suicides and
homicides between the ages of 15 and 34, three-quarters
of which were male.

Around two percent of the youngest men and eight
percent of the oldest showed evidence of atherosclerosis
and coronary artery disease. Those men that had the
highest levels of bad cholesterol and the highest blood
pressure showed the strongest signs of atherosclerosis.

Smoking and Premature Heart Attack

Smoking at any age is bad news for your heart. Smoking
one pack of cigarettes a day doubles your risk of heart
attack according to the American Heart Association.
Because young men tend to be more likely to smoke
regularly, the risks are high.

Secondhand smoke is also a culprit when it comes to early
heart attack, often experienced during the early years of
childhood. A 2007 study by the Research Centre of Applied
and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of
Turku, Finland showed children who were exposed to
smoke showed serious problems in their arteries’ ability to
widen as they grew older, leaving them at risk of an early
heart attack.

The children studied were as young as 11 so it is easy to
see how continued exposure to smoke during your
childhood can stack up the risk of suffering a heart attack
as a young man.

High Cholesterol Increases the Risk of Early Heart Attack

High cholesterol is not something only old people suffer
from. High levels of bad cholesterol in the blood which can
cause heart attack also affect young men. The 2012
Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study,
which looked at 5,000 people aged 18 to 30 over 15 years,
showed every 30 mg/dL rise in LDL (bad) cholesterol
increased coronary heart disease risk by 50 percent.

High Blood Pressure Causes Heart Attack in Young Guys

Again, just because you’re young and relatively fit doesn’t
mean your blood pressure isn’t a risk factor for an early
heart attack. The 2012 Coronary Artery Risk Development
in Young Adults study showed every 10 mm Hg rise in
systolic blood pressure increased the risk of heart disease
by 30 percent.

Unfortunately guys are more likely to experience high
blood pressure problems in early adulthood due to lifestyle
factors – guys are more likely to smoke, eat fast food and
overeat as teenagers, and the amount of exercise they get
decreases faster than girls, according to Harvard Medical

Young adulthood is a time for building the foundations of
good heart health so even if you think a heart attack is a
long way on the horizon, it pays to look after your diet and
fitness levels.  Avoid eating
excess salt, especially, if you
want to maintain normal blood pressure. (Read about
what causes craving for salt.)

Cocaine Use and Heart Attack in Young Guys

Cocaine is a cardiotoxic drug and cocaine use has been
associated with heart attacks among young men. Use of
cocaine can cause cardiotoxicity including ventricular
arrhythmia, systemic hypertension, heart attack and left
ventricular hypertrophy according to researchers at the
Monash University, Victoria, Australia (2012). Researchers
found out of the 43 cocaine death cases reviewed, 14
involved significant heart disease including coronary artery
disease (11 cases), an enlarged heart (5 cases),
myocarditis and contraction band necrosis.

Your Family History Increases Risk of Premature Heart

Having a parent who suffered a heart attack in their late
thirties and early forties may put you at higher risk of
suffering an early heart attack yourself, according to a
2003 study by the University of Split, Croatia. It turns out
risk factors for heart attack were higher in the group of
children with early heart attack parents than in the control
group, with weight, blood pressure and cholesterol
significantly higher. Researchers concluded that children
with a family history of early heart attack should be
screened in order to lower the risk of the same thing
happening to them in the future.

STDs Increase Your Heart Attack Risk

Infection with STDs such as chlamydia pneumoniae can
increase your risk of heart attack. Infection with the
pneumonia bacterium, which is a relative of the
bacteria that causes the sexually transmitted disease
known as Chlamydia, leads to respiratory problems such
as bronchitis, pneumonia and sinus infection.

Chlamydia is a common infection but 2005 research from
the University of Wisconsin suggests it may increase the
risk of heart attack in young men.

The researchers found that high levels of C. pneumoniae
antibodies in the blood were linked with the occurrence of
heart attack. However, researchers stressed that more
research was needed in order to firm up the link between
the bacteria and early heart attack.  (Read more about the
Top 10 STD symptoms and remedies.)

Sports and Heart Attack in Young Men

We sometimes hear reports of amateur and professional
athletes dying on the football pitch or in the middle of a
race. In many cases, heart attack is the cause of sudden
death during sport.

A 2012 study from Hôpital Charles Nicolle de Tunis, Tunisia
looked at the causes of sudden death in victims with an
average age of 33 years who were running, playing
football, and dancing when they died.  

In fact, every 3 days, an athlete dies from sudden heart
attack from sports, according to a 2013 study from Seoul
National University Hospital in Korea.

According to research, 18.7 percent of the cases had a
known cardiac problem, and the cause of death was
cardiac in 84.4 percent of the cases.

Lifting heavy weights has been linked to an increased risk
of aortic dissection, with symptoms similar to a heart


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