Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but most people associate it with middle-aged or older people. However, there has been an increase in the number of teenagers with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, the two most prominent risk factors for heart disease or a heart attack.
Good dietary habits and physical activity are good habits that ensure you stay heart-healthy. However, there are also other risk factors for a heart attack at a young age. Can an 18-year-old have a heart attack? Know the truth about heart attacks and age.
1. Heart Attacks in Young Adults: The 18-Year-Old Dilemma
The risk of anyone under 40 suffering a heart attack or myocardial infarction is between four and 10 percent. However, heart attacks among young people are rising.
The cause of a heart attack is when the blood bringing oxygen to the heart muscle is cut off or reduced by a blocked artery. Several contributing factors can lead to blockages in the arteries.
When a person has congenital heart abnormalities and doesn’t try to reduce their risk, their chance of suffering a heart attack increases. Therefore, they must manage their lifestyle, avoiding an unhealthy diet, alcohol and substance use, and a sedentary lifestyle.
2. Understanding the Risk Factors for Heart Attacks in Teens
There are several risk factors for heart attacks in teens. Cardiologists agree that heart attacks are more common in young men, but young women are 1.6 times more likely to die after a heart attack because of underlying conditions like diabetes.
Scientists and doctors agree that the increase is mainly related to lifestyle factors, but not only. According to HealthCentral, these are the most common risk factors for heart attacks in teens:
High Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure is well-established as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease because when it remains high, it damages the arteries. Raised blood pressure in young adults also increases their risk for coronary heart disease later in life, even if they take measures to lower it later. The sooner you start managing blood pressure, the better for a healthier heart.
Extra weight doesn’t directly cause heart attacks. However, it causes other conditions leading to plaque build-up, increasing the risk of heart attack. These conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Unfortunately, obesity rates have doubled over the last three decades and will increase even further in the next 40 years. Research shows that 56% of young adults are either overweight or obese, increasing their risk of heart attacks.
Type 2 Diabetes
Young people with type 2 diabetes increase their risk of heart attacks by two. That’s because high blood sugar damages vital blood vessels and nerves associated with the heart. Historically, older people got diabetes, but the number of people with diabetes aged 10 to 19 has doubled over the last twenty years.
Even though cholesterol is essential for building healthy cells, too much is another cause of heart attacks. People with high cholesterol risk the build-up of fatty deposits in their blood vessels. These deposits can eventually clog the arteries going to the heart. Moreover, they can break off the artery walls and form a clot, causing a heart attack. Research shows that high cholesterol as a young adult increases the risk of cardiovascular episodes compared to getting high cholesterol in middle age. Unfortunately, high cholesterol affects one in 13 teens in the U.S. today.
A new risk for developing some heart condition or having a heart attack is COVID-19. A study recently showed that people remain at risk for an entire year after their initial infection. Furthermore, the researchers estimate that 4% of people who have had COVID are at risk. Another study showed that people with long COVID and its multiple infections also have an increased risk for heart conditions.
The risk of heart disease rises if a close family member like a parent or sibling has had it before age 55 for men and 65 for women. Therefore, knowing your family history is essential to understand your risk. Culture and genetics play a significant role. A tendency to have high blood pressure in African Americans and Hispanics puts them at higher risk. Additionally, African Americans have higher incidents of diabetes, and half of Hispanics suffer from high cholesterol. Know your family history, genetics, and cultural tendencies to ensure you take suitable measures.
Substance abuse is another risk factor for increased heart attacks among younger adults. One study showed that young heart attack patients were likelier to report substance abuse. The substances associated with heart failure include marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and opioid abuse.
Stress, Depression, and Anxiety
Certain mental health conditions also contribute to heart issues; the most common ones, like stress, depression, and anxiety, are rising in teens.
3. Preventing Heart Attacks in Young Adults: Key Strategies
Preventing heart disease in young adults is crucial for maintaining good cardiovascular health. Here are key strategies to help young adults reduce their risk of heart disease:
Maintain a Healthy Diet
- Consume a balanced diet with more fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Limit saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium intake.
- Watch portion sizes and be mindful of calorie consumption.
Take Regular Exercise and Manage Your Weight
- Engage in moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
- Add strength training exercises to your routine at least twice a week.
- Remain physically active and eat healthily to maintain a healthy weight.
- Aim for a balanced body mass index (BMI) within the recommended range for your age and height.
Avoid Smoking and Drug Use
- Do not smoke
- Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Stay away from all forms of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
- Stay away from recreational drug use.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
- If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation – one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
Manage Your Stress Levels
- Practice stress management by adding mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises into your day.
- Seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional when needed.
Get Adequate Sleep
- Try to get between 7 and nine hours of quality sleep every night.
- Poor sleep can contribute to heart disease risk, so prioritize good sleep hygiene.
Regular Health Check-ups
- Visit your healthcare provider for regular check-ups, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar screenings.
- Let your doctor know if you have any heart disease risk factors and follow their recommendations.
Know Your Family History
- Be aware of your family’s history of heart disease and related conditions.
- Share this information with your healthcare provider to assess your risk.
Manage Chronic Conditions
- If you have conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, work with your healthcare provider to manage them effectively.
Learn CPR and Basic First Aid
- Learning (CPR) and basic first aid can be life-saving in a cardiac emergency.
Remember that the earlier you adopt heart-healthy habits, the better your chances of preventing heart disease as a young adult and throughout your life.
4. Recognizing the Symptoms of Heart Attacks in 18-Year-Olds
Heart attack symptoms can differ slightly between young males and females. See the chart from Medical News Today for a detailed list of the warning signs.
However, the most common is chest pain in the center or left side. The squeezing pain or pressure lasts several minutes. In some cases, it may go away and then come back.
Other symptoms you may experience during a heart attack include:
- Jaw, neck, or back pain combined with the chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Tingling or pain in the shoulder
- Weakness or dizziness
- Unexplained fatigue, especially when combined with other symptoms
- Nausea or vomiting, especially when combined with other symptoms
5. Promoting Heart Health in Adolescence: A Vital Approach
Promoting heart health in adolescents is crucial to help them begin healthy habits that can lower their risk of heart disease later in life.
Here are some key strategies to promote heart health in adolescents:
- Encourage a balanced diet that includes healthy foods and limits the consumption of foods and beverages high in sugar, salts, fats, and highly processed foods.
- Teach them to avoid fast foods and eat balanced meals while practicing portion control.
- Urge them to do at least one hour of physical activity daily, including team sports and other activities they enjoy.
- Limit screen time and encourage physical hobbies.
- Educate adolescents about the dangers of smoking, vaping, and substance abuse.
- Provide better access to tools and techniques to manage stress effectively, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or time management skills.
- Encourage open communication to help them express their feelings and concerns.
- Emphasize the importance of adequate sleep (8-10 hours per night) to support physical and emotional well-being.
- Adolescents are more likely to adopt healthy habits when they see their parents and caregivers practicing these habits themselves, so they need a positive example.
- Education and awareness can teach adolescents about heart health and the prevention of heart disease.
- Regular health check-ups address any concerns and provide a way to monitor heart health.
- Help adolescents build the confidence and skills to resist peer pressure, particularly regarding unhealthy behaviors like smoking or drug use.
- Pay attention to mental health issues, as stress, anxiety, and depression can affect heart health, and seek professional help if needed.
- Create an environment that encourages and reinforces healthy choices at home and in the community.
Promoting heart health in adolescence is a lifelong investment in overall well-being. By instilling healthy habits early, adolescents are better equipped to maintain a healthy heart throughout their lives.
6. The Surprising Truth: Heart Attacks Can Occur at 18
While heart attacks are relatively uncommon in young adults, they can occur at any age, including as early as 18. It’s important to understand that heart attacks in younger individuals are usually associated with underlying medical conditions or risk factors. Common risk factors for heart attacks in young adults may include:
- Genetic factors
- Tobacco use, including smoking or vaping
- Uncontrolled hypertension
- Elevated levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- Poorly managed diabetes
- Excess body weight
- A sedentary lifestyle
- The use of drugs or excessive alcohol
- High levels of chronic stress
- Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.
- Some medications may contribute to heart attack risk
- Congenital heart conditions
As you can see, young people are not immune to suffering a heart attack. It’s good to understand its causes and recognize its symptoms. Understanding the causes can help you lead a heart-healthy life from a young age, making it count. Recognizing the symptoms will help you seek immediate medical care to prevent further damage.
7. Navigating the Emotional Impact of Heart Attacks in Teens
Heart attacks in teenagers are rare but can have a substantial emotional impact on the affected individual and their families. The emotional toll can be overwhelming, and addressing these feelings and providing support is essential. The emotional impacts of heart attacks in teens include:
- Shock and disbelief that something so serious has happened to them at such a young age.
- The fear of another heart attack or complications can lead to anxiety and heightened stress levels, including a fear of partaking in activities they enjoyed before.
- The emotional trauma and physical limitations after a heart attack often lead to depression in young adults.
- Young people may feel anger about their situation, such as why it happened to them or why they must make substantial changes to their lives. Frustration can stem from the need to take medications or undergo therapies.
- Feelings of social isolation from their peers are common since they may not understand their condition or engage in activities they can’t participate in.
- Physical changes due to the heart attack or treatment, such as scars or medication side effects, can affect self-esteem and body image.
- A heart attack can sometimes lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with the person experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts.
- Family and relationship strain can occur.
- If they need support and caregiving after a heart attack, loss of independence can prove emotionally challenging.
- Lifestyle adjustments like adjusting their diet, exercise routine, and medications can be emotionally taxing.
There are several ways to address the emotional impact of heart attacks in teens. These include seeking help from mental health professionals and support groups while encouraging open communication.
Mental health professionals can help those teens feeling anxiety, stress, depression, or PTSD due to heart attacks. On the other hand, support groups allow them to connect with other teens who have faced similar challenges. At this stage, it’s critical to provide an optimistic outlook.
Open communication without judgment and allowing them to express their feelings creates an environment that will enable them to gradually adjust to their daily routine while focusing on their physical and emotional needs.
Emphasizing the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of future heart problems and promote emotional well-being.
Remember that emotional recovery is a significant part of the healing process after a heart attack, and providing emotional support is just as important as medical treatment.