How It Happens
When a seemingly healthy, active, young adult suffers a heart attack, it’s always shocking news. It’s also a reminder that people should pay attention to heart health no matter what their age.
Heart attacks in young adults are most commonly caused by coronary artery disease, which may be linked to lifestyle. In one study, researchers monitored the health and lifestyles of more than 5,000 people ages 18 to 30 for up to 15 years. They discovered that coronary artery disease was 50 percent higher among those who smoked 10 cigarettes a day. High cholesterol and high blood pressure, which are often caused by poor diet, stress and lack of exercise, were also deemed to put young hearts at increased risk for heart attacks.
Of course, not all heart attacks in young adults are related to lifestyle factors. Undiagnosed genetic disorders, blood clots, trauma or drug use can also trigger deadly cardiac events.
Hearts In Trouble
While the media may report all deadly heart incidents as "heart attacks," a heart attack is different from sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is an abrupt loss of heart function that happens minutes after symptoms appear. Brain death begins just minutes after the heart stops.
When people in their mid-30s to mid- 40s suffer sudden cardiac arrest, it is most often caused by undiagnosed coronary artery disease according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. When young adults, like athletes, collapse on the field from sudden cardiac arrest, it is more likely the result of undiagnosed heart abnormalities. Adrenaline released by the body during intense physical activity can trigger cardiac arrest in an abnormal heart.
In contrast to cardiac arrest, a heart attack results when blood flow to the heart is blocked, and the heart is dam- aged from a lack of blood and oxygen. Heart attacks are typically caused by years of plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. A heart attack can cause cardiac arrest and death, too, so it's important to avoid habits that are linked to heart disease. Prevention is the best protection against coronary artery disease since plaque buildup usually cannot be reversed.