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Heart attacks are normally the sort of thing that people expect to occur in elderly people. Recent studies, however, show that the young are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cardiac events. Heart attacks especially are on the rise among adults who are in their 30s or younger. In fact, the proportion of heart attack patients who are 39 and younger has been increasing at a steady rate of 2 percent each year for the last decade.

Dr. Ron Blankstein, a preventative cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, noted that it was once “incredibly rare” to see heart attack patients who were under the age of 40. Now, however, it is becoming more common to see cardiac patients as young as their 20s. “It seems that we are moving in the wrong direction,” said Blankstein. To find out why the average age of heart attacks seemed to be dropping, Blankstein began examining patient treatment information from over 2,000 people who were hospitalized between 2006 and 2016.

There was no clear cause for the sudden rise of all the heart attacks in young people, but he did find that a growing percentage of young people carried one of the largest risk factors for cardiac events. They were taking part in substance abuse. Young people in the emergency room had illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine in their systems. Abusing such dangerous substances greatly increases a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke. As such, the increase in drug use among young people canceled out the fact that they drank less alcohol.

In addition to climbing heart attack rates, younger Americans are also at an increased risk for strokes. Strokes still tend to affect elderly individuals, but there has been nearly a 45 percent increase in young adults being hospitalized for strokes in the last 10 years. Strokes remain the second most common cause of death worldwide.

Despite the alarming news for young people, the overall statistics about cardiac events and strokes are encouraging. Fewer heart attacks are occurring overall in America despite the nation’s obesity epidemic. As for the rising attacks in young people, the most dangerous risk factors for heart attacks are preventable.

“It all comes back to prevention,” Blankstein said. “Many people think that a heart attack is destined to happen, but the vast majority could be prevented with earlier detection of the disease and aggressive lifestyle changes and management of other risk factors. [Swear off tobacco,] cocaine and marijuana because they’re not…good for your heart.”

One would think it would be common sense that dangerous drugs could cause heart problems, but sometimes the obvious needs to be restated. If stating the obvious gets young people to quit and take care of their hearts, shout it from the rooftops so that everyone can hear and do what they need to do to protect their heart.

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