More Americans under 40 are having heart attacks

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Days after Luke Perry's death at 52 from a heart attack, a new study of heart attack rates has another sad memory that young people are all but invincible – and perhaps even more vulnerable than before.

Heart attack rates are on the rise for adults under 40, researchers found after comparing the data of the infarct survivors from 41 to 50 years with those survivors aged 40 and younger.

In fact, the proportion of patients with heart attack under age 40 has risen by 2% each year over the past 10 years, according to the results expected for the annual scientific session of the American College of Cardiology later this month.

The researchers tried to bring out the risk factors that explain the increase and said that substance abuse could share some of the blame. Younger patients were more likely to use marijuana and cocaine than their older counterparts, even if they drank less alcohol.

"It seems we are moving in the wrong direction," said Dr. Ron Blankstein, a Harvard Medical School professor and a preventive cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Once "incredibly rare" to see patients with myocardial infarction under 40, noted Blankstein. But some heart patients who entered the emergency room now had between 20 and 30 years, he said. It reviewed information on patient treatment for over 2,000 people hospitalized from 2006 to 2016.

Although some patients with myocardial infarction were younger, they had the same risks of subsequent death from repetition of heart attack or stroke in 40-year-old patients.

About 735,000 Americans suffer from heart attacks every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 600,000 people die each year from heart disease, which includes heart attacks and several other types of conditions. It is the leading cause of death of America.

There is evidence that stroke rates are rising for younger Americans even though strokes often affect older individuals, according to Dr. Mitchell S.V. Elkind, president of the American Stroke Association Advisory Committee. Shots like the one that killed Luke Perry bring the lives of 140,000 people every year to America.

The authors of the current findings say that less heart attacks are happening in America, thanks to statins and less smoking, and this despite the country's obesity epidemic. However, the upward trend for younger demographics was worrying.

"Everything goes back to prevention," Blankstein said. "Many people think that a heart attack is likely to happen, but the vast majority could be prevented by early detection of the disease and aggressive lifestyle changes and management of other risk factors."

He recommended a good diet, exercise, avoiding tobacco and cursing "cocaine and marijuana because they are not necessarily good for your heart".

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