In recent years, more people have become aware that obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking can increase the chance of suffering a heart attack. But a new study shows that despite this greater awareness, more people now have these kinds of medical conditions at a younger age — and are suffering from heart attacks as a result.
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In the study, researchers led by interventional cardiologist Samir Kapadia, MD, analyzed heart disease risk factors among nearly 4,000 Cleveland Clinic patients who were treated for the most severe and deadly type of heart attack over two decades, from 1995 to 2014.
The researchers divided the records of the patients into four groups, each representing a span of five years.
They theorized at the outset of the study that as patients knew more about health risks associated with heart attack, they would begin to make corresponding changes in their lifestyle to help curb these risks.
However the researchers found the opposite to be true — patients were more likely to have preventable risk factors such high blood pressure and diabetes and were more likely to be smokers.
The data also showed that over time, the patients who had these serious type of heart attacks were experiencing them at a younger age.
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The study results showed:
- A decrease in the average age of patients with these serious types of heart attacks — from 64 to 60 in the first five-year span of the study and the last five-year span
- An increase in obesity rates, from 31 percent to 40 percent
- An increase in the proportion of patients with diabetes (from 24 to 31 percent), high blood pressure (from 55 percent to 77 percent), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (from 5 percent to 12 percent)
- An increase — from 28 to 46 percent — in smoking rates, which goes against the national trend of an overall decline during the past 20 years
- A significant increase — from 65 percent to 85 percent — in the number of patients who have three or more major risk factors
The study looked at patients who were treated for the most severe and deadly type of heart attack called ST-elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI. This type of heart attack is caused by a prolonged period of blocked blood supply. STEMI has a number of risk factors, some of which can be controlled and some that can’t.
For example, you can’t do anything about your age or family history of heart disease. But you can make lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet and increasing your physical activity.
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Make your health a priority
These findings indicate that although people are more aware of the health risks associated with cardiovascular disease, they still aren’t making their health a priority over other aspects of their lives, Dr. Kapadia says.
“There is a group of patients who are unable to change their lifestyles and decrease their risks for heart attack,” Dr. Kapadia says.
He said it’s important for doctors to help these patients with heart attack risk factors to understand that their eating and physical activity choices can make an impact on their long-term health.
“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,” Dr. Kapadia says.
Dr. Kapadia said that preventive cardiology is an essential tool for people who don’t know exactly how to go about making the necessary changes to prevent heart attacks.
“When people come for routine checkups, it is critical to stress the importance of reducing risk factors through weight reduction, eating a healthy diet and being physically active. This is the right time – before they get their first heart attack.”
The study looked at data from Cleveland Clinic patients only, so more research is necessary to ensure the findings hold true across a broader population, Dr. Kapadia says.
Study results will be presented next week at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Session.
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