Heart attack patients are getting younger and fatter, warns new research.
The study shows people suffering the most severe type of heart attack have become younger and more obese – despite increased understanding of heart disease risk factors and the need for preventive lifestyle changes.
The research shows heart attack victims today are also more likely to have preventable risk factors – such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Researchers assessed risk factors among more than 3,900 patients who were treated for ST-elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI – the most severe and deadly type of heart attack – at Cleveland Clinic in the US between 1995 and 2014.
Immediate medical attention can increase the chances of survival, but STEMI carries a high risk of death and disability.
Primary investigator Professor Samir Kapadia, of the Cleveland Clinic, said: “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.
“When people come for routine check-ups, it is critical to stress the importance of reducing risk factors through weight reduction, eating a healthy diet and being physically active.”
The researchers divided the records of patients from 1995 to 2014 into four quartiles, each representing a span of five years.
They found the average age of STEMI patients decreased from 64 to 60, and the prevalence of obesity increased from 31 to 40 per cent between the first five-year span and the last five-year span.
The proportion of patients with diabetes increased from 24 to 31 per cent, the proportion with high blood pressure grew from 55 to 77 per cent, and the proportion with COPD rose from five to 12 per cent over the same period.
The researchers said one of their most striking findings was the change in smoking rates, which increased from 28 to 46 per cent – a finding counter to national trends, which reflect an overall decline in smoking rates over the past 20 years.
All of the other risk factor trends seen in the Cleveland Clinic study were in line with national trends.
The study also revealed a significant increase in the proportion of patients who have three or more major risk factors, which grew from 65 to 85 per cent.
Prof Kapadia said the findings carry strong messages for both the medical community and the general public.
He said: “Prevention must be kept in the forefront of primary care.
“Cardiac health is not just dependent on the cardiologist. The primary care physicians and the patient need to take ownership of this problem.”
Prof Kapadia said that for patients, taking ownership means adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle early.
He added: “Don’t wait until you have a diagnosed heart problem to start taking care of yourself and paying attention to your lifestyle and dietary choices.
“You should be working hard to avoid developing heart disease in the first place.”
The findings were due to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Session.
By Stephen Beech