A 19-year-old Telangana student, M Gopi Raju, collapsed while writing his class 12 exams, after having earlier complained of chest pain, on Saturday. The police officials, who were looking into the issue, had speculated that he had suffered from a heart attack. The tragedy, however, highlights the alarming trend of heart attacks presenting in young individuals, and there are an array of studies to indicate so.
Several cardiologists have noticed an increase in the number of people under the age of 30 presenting with heart attacks, with some being as young as 16. “Recently, a 21-year-old patient was presented to the emergency room with what we diagnosed as a heart attack. He was not physically active and had erratic sleep and eating patterns, too,” explains Dr Subash C, a Chennai-based cardiologist, adding that it has become increasingly common to see people of a similar age group presenting with such cases.
The average age of a young individual presenting with a heart attack between March 2013 and February 2015 was 26, according to one study. Manifestations of coronary heart disease (CHD) are seen in a large percentage of younger individuals, and when left unchecked, this may lead to heart attacks.
Coronary heart disease is caused by the buildup of plaque in the vessels that supply blood to the heart. When there is a block in one or more of these vessels, it can cut off adequate blood supply to the muscle, soon manifesting as pain. Clinically, this is called a ‘heart attack.’
A few months ago, Dr Prateek Bhatnagar, a cardiac surgeon from Sunshine Hospitals in Secunderabad, Telangana, attended to an unexpected case of a 19-year-old man who required urgent bypass surgery. “He was brought to the emergency room with chest pain and discomfort. We diagnosed him with ‘myocardial infarction,’ or a heart attack and found that he would require urgent bypass surgery. The teenager ended up getting five surgeries, as the blocks in his heart vessels were widespread,” he recalls.
From genetics to smoking, drinking, stress and other lifestyle habits, several factors have been attributed to the rising rates of heart attacks among young people.
Not only are more young people presenting with heart attacks, but they are presenting with complications, too. “A 19-year-old requiring five bypass surgeries would have been previously unheard of. But now, many young people are presenting with chest pain and acute myocardial infarction. Several patients are coming in with more aggressive complications of a heart attack than traditionally seen in an older patient,” says Dr Prateek.
Exercise, active lifestyle key to prevention
Both Dr Subash and Dr Prateek agree that young people need to be counselled to have more active lifestyles and adopt healthier habits.
“Exercise is the first step. Then, we make sure that those who smoke or drink understand the risks of continuing to do so, given their condition. It is vital that they stop smoking. Those who have undergone surgery will have to follow up and continue taking the appropriate steps, lest it aggravates their condition,” explains Dr Prateek.