Think you’re too young to suffer a heart attack? Might want to think again.
While many equate heart attacks with older men, research shows that heart attacks are increasingly occurring in younger people, particularly among women. Researchers studied over 28,000 people in a 9-year span and found that the rate of heart attacks in patients ages 35 to 54 has increased from 27% to 32%.
The numbers consistently show that no one is immune from having a heart attack, regardless of age, race, and gender. To help you avoid becoming a statistic, we’ll also cover ways that you can prevent a heart attack, common signs and symptoms to know, and what to do if you or someone near you is having one.
Chances of having a heart attack
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) paint the picture of the prevalence and severity of heart attacks:
- In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.
- Every year, approximately 805,000 Americans have a heart attack.
- Of these, 605,000 are a first heart attack and 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack.
- About 1 in 5 heart attacks are silent — the damage is done, but the person isn’t aware of it.
- Sudden cardiac arrest following a heart attack is fatal 90% of the time.
The average age of the first heart attack for men is 65.1 years of age and 72.0 years for women. If you’re concerned about your risk of having heart disease, this Heart Disease Risk Calculator from the Mayo Clinic Health System can help you get an idea of where you stand.
Healthline also provides some eye-opening data concerning life expectancy after a heart attack:
- 42 percent of women die within a year after a heart attack
- 24 percent of men die within a year after a heart attack
While general statistics outlining life expectancy after a heart attack are limited, individual risk factors will impact longevity after having one.
Risk factors for heart attack
The CDC cites three key risk factors for heart disease and heart attack:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
These are considered controllable risk factors since they stem from an individual’s lifestyle. Uncontrollable risk factors include age and family history, though both of those are important variables in determining your risk of a heart attack.
Ethnicity is also a factor to be considered. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S, including African Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Caucasians. For Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics, heart disease is second only to cancer.
Signs & symptoms of a heart attack
"It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.”
You may have heard this if you’ve ever spoken with someone who has experienced a heart attack. Although that would be a pronounced symptom of heart attack, others are:
- Chest pain or discomfort. The majority of heart attacks involve discomfort on the left side of their chest. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain, and can last for a few minutes or go away and come back.
- Feeling weak, faint, or light-headed. Breaking out into a cold sweat is also possible with these symptoms.
- Pain or discomfort in the shoulders or in one or both arms.
- Pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw, or back.
- Shortness of breath, which is often accompanied by chest discomfort.
Other symptoms may include unexplained or unusual fatigue, nausea, or vomiting. These symptoms are more prevalent in women.
What to do if someone is having a heart attack
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a heart attack, or are with someone who is, call 9-1-1 immediately. It’s imperative to get treatment as soon as possible to reduce the amount of damage to the heart muscle. Once you arrive at the hospital, health care professionals will run a battery of tests to determine if you’re having a heart attack and deliver the treatment you need.
In some cases, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or a defibrillator may be needed to get the heart pumping again until emergency medical personnel arrive. Contact your local association of the Red Cross to learn more about the CPR training they offer.
How to recover from a heart attack
Having survived a heart attack means you may be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke or kidney disorder. It’s a major disability and will require time and effort on your part to recover. Your heart’s rhythm and its ability to pump blood to the rest of your body have been severely disrupted.
To lower your chances of having health problems in the future following a heart attack, follow these three steps.
1. Lifestyle changes
Eating healthier, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and managing stress can help strengthen your heart and improve your quality of life. Many health care facilities offer cardiac rehabilitation programs which are designed to help you make these lifestyle changes.
2. Physical activity
Your doctor will advise you about what you should be doing and how often. They may want to limit work, travel, or other strenuous activities for some time after your heart attack.
Prescription drugs are going to become part of your life going forward. Adhere to the dosage amount and frequency that your doctor instructs. Lifestyle changes are much more effective when being done in conjunction with prescribed medication.
The bottom line
Sharing this information with people you care about may sound the alarm for them to prevent a heart attack and help save their lives. Remember, anyone can suffer a heart attack without notice. Staying educated about symptoms and treatment may be a lifesaver for you or someone else.
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