I’m too young to have a heart attack, aren’t I?

Heart attacks are for older men who smoke and have high cholesterol, right? The answer is no. In fact, the face of the typical heart attack patient has drastically changed in recent years.

Death rates from heart disease and strokes HAD been steadily declining over the last century — thanks to educating the public about the dangerous health consequences of smoking, and the introduction of new medications to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and advances in surgical techniques.

Unfortunately, the improvement in cardiovascular health seems to have come to an alarming halt. Today’s heart disease patient is surprisingly different – younger, obese, and quite possibly a woman. Many don’t even know they may be at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Why?

According to Washington University cardiothoracic surgeon, Spencer Melby, MD, “The obesity epidemic and increasing number of individuals with Type 2 diabetes are the driving force behind this unwelcome spike in cardiovascular disease mortality. Approximately 40% of the United States population over age 20 are obese, and about 9% of adults over age 18 have diabetes.

Excess weight and the strain it puts on our circulation system eventually leads to high blood pressure, potentially damaging the heart and arteries. The end result can be a heart attack, stroke or heart failure.”

Dr. Melby adds, “We have come a long way in educating the American public about the dangers and health risks associated with smoking. It wasn’t that long ago that lighting a cigarette in bars, restaurants, airplanes and yes, even hospitals, was acceptable behavior. Thanks to years of anti-smoking advertising campaigns, people now know that smoking is bad for them.

Obesity is considered the new smoking – there is a direct link between being overweight and the likely chance of dying from heart disease, heart failure or a stroke.  We need to find the right way to get the message across for heart healthy living that includes exercise, diet and weight loss. Our lives depend on it.”

The typical signs of a heart attack are:

  • Pressure, pain, tightness in chest or arms that may spread to neck, jaw or back
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat or excessive sweating
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
  • Overall feeling of weakness

If you have any symptoms that indicate you might be having a heart attack, CALL 911.

To make an appointment with Dr. Melby, please call 314-362-7260.

Heart & Vascular Center
Center for Advanced Medicine
4921 Parkview Place, Suite 8A
St. Louis, MO 63110