- Jim Liu, a cardiologist at Ohio State University, explains why heart disease is on the rise among young people.
- Several studies have indicated young people are dying from heart attacks at higher rates than in the past.
- Sedentary lifestyles, vaping, poor sleep, and chronic health conditions might be behind the trend.
Heart problems are on the rise among an unlikely demographic: young people.
People between 25 and 44 have experienced a nearly 30% increase in heart attack deaths since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2022 study conducted by Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles suggested.
Another study from Johns Hopkins, published in 2018 that reviewed 28,000 hospitalizations for heart attacks over a 20-year period, found the rate of heart attacks for women aged 35 to 54 increased, even as the overall mortality rate for heart disease decreased.
Heart disease is an umbrella term that encompasses heart health problems including heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, or other damage to different parts of the organ. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking cigarettes are typically the root causes of many types of heart disease, but lifestyle changes and national trends could be behind the increase in heart disease among young people, according to Dr. Jim Liu, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Liu told Insider he’s seen more young people with heart disease come into his care over the last five to ten years. Perhaps surprisingly, the cardiologist said many of his new, younger patients do not have any of the traditional risk factors, and might be more susceptible to other issues and indicators that could increase overall risk.
Plus, data from a survey by Ohio State found 47% of people under 45 did not believe they were at risk for heart disease — a trend that may also be behind the rise in heart attacks, Liu said.
One cause could be the recent rise in obesity, said Liu. The prevalence of obesity rose from 3% pre-pandemic to 4.4% between 2020 to 2021, per federal data, as more people increased their alcohol intake. Young people are already prone to more sedentary lifestyles, and Liu said the pandemic may have led to even lower rates of exercise.
“Because of the pandemic, people may be a little bit less active, maybe eating worse,” Liu said. “So that could possibly translate into worsened blood pressure, increased weight, and long-term healthcare problems, specifically cardiovascular.”
Liu said young people may also be unaware of some of the less talked about risk factors for heart disease. For instance, the doctor said vapes and e-cigarettes can stress your heart just as much as regular cigarettes can. Other risk factors that might put young people in particular at risk for heart disease are illicit drug use, poor sleep, and chronic conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and HIV, the doctor said.
Overall, Liu said more research is needed to fully understand why Americans are getting heart disease at younger ages than in the past. In the meantime, the doctor encouraged young people to make themselves aware of lifestyle factors that contribute to poor heart health, and the importance of exercise and diet to prevent this issue to lower risk factors.
“If they have a specific condition already, for example, blood pressure, diabetes, or [high] cholesterol, making sure that those are controlled by getting routine healthcare,” Liu said. “And making sure you’re sticking to a healthy lifestyle is important, also.”