Young at Heart
February 17, 2020
Heart disease increases with age, especially after age 65, but cardiac problems in young and middle-aged adults aren’t unheard of – in fact, they’re probably more common than you think. In a 2018 study in the journal Circulation, 30% of more than 28,000 people hospitalized for heart attacks from 1995 to 2014 were 35 to 54 years old.
“The same conditions that occur in older people, including coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure, can affect younger adults, although it’s less common,” says Kelly Steffen, DO, FACC, a Sanford Health cardiologist who sees patients at the Huron Regional Medical Center Specialty Clinic. “Still, my colleagues and I see plenty of patients in younger age groups who have arterial blockages or weakness of the heart muscle from a variety of causes.”
The Most Important Tests
Heart disease prevention starts with screenings of important indicators of heart health, such as blood pressure and cholesterol. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are both key heart disease contributors and typically don’t cause symptoms, so it’s important to take regular measurements to identify and respond to these conditions early. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a blood pressure screening at least every two years and a cholesterol screening every four to six.
“A physical exam with a primary care provider is recommended on a yearly basis for everyone,” Dr. Steffen says. “That’s an opportunity for a provider to listen for irregular heartbeats or heart murmurs, check your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, and discuss your risk factors for heart disease.”
Adults ages 40 and older who have an intermediate risk for heart disease may wish to consider a coronary artery calcium (CAC) scoring test, the AHA recommends. This CT scan of the heart arteries measures the amount of calcium they contain. The results provide clues about the presence of plaque in the
arteries and can help physicians predict a patient’s likelihood of developing heart disease. Sanford Health typically offers CAC scoring tests at HRMC in February and at the South Dakota State Fair over Labor Day weekend. (Read Huron resident Todd Evan's story of a lucky catch at the 2019 SD State Fair).
In addition to undergoing screenings, there’s plenty more you can do to support heart health by modifying the risk factors within your control. You can:
- Devote at least 150 minutes per week to moderate intensity aerobic exercise.
- Get at least seven hours of sleep nightly.
- Limit saturated fats, sodium and sugar in your diet.
- Kick the habit if you smoke.
- Manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea.
- Reduce stress.
These steps will help you control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, which is key to preventing heart disease. One factor you can’t control is family history of heart disease, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
“We don’t know for sure how much family history contributes to heart disease risk, but it definitely plays a role,” Dr. Steffen says. “It’s important to find out if your
parents and siblings have any history of heart disease, if possible. If they do, that information allows you to work hard on the factors you can control and lets your physician know you may need closer monitoring.”
To find a cardiologist who can help you manage your heart health, visit www.huronregional.org/find-a-doc. For more information on heart month activities at HRMC, visit www.huronregional.org/GoRed.
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