More young people than ever are dying from heart disease. Here's why.
Heart failure was once a disease most commonly associated with older populations, but recent research has found that young adults are increasingly at risk of dying of heart failure, as reported by CNN. In a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that the although fatal heart disease had been on the decline for decades, 2011 saw an upswing — and it hasn't stopped since, leading to more people than ever before between the ages of 35 to 64 dying from the condition.
“It’s a great concern. I’m a heart failure specialist, so we see the devastation of younger people who have young families and then lose a father or mother, or parents who lose children,” Dr. Philip Binkley, M.D., a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Mic.
As the study notes, the recent rise in heart disease can be attributed in part to an increase in younger people developing conditions like diabetes and obesity. According to Dr. Jane Orient, M.D., internist and author of Your Doctor Is Not In: Healthy Skepticism About National Health Care, the popularity of statin drugs — which reduce cholesterol production from the liver — is also a factor, as they are known to deplete coenzyme Q10 and lead to heart failure. "A lot of people" only stop taking statins once they experience "muscle pain and weakness," Dr. Orient tells Mic — and of course, the heart is a muscle.
Physical conditions and drugs aren't the only reasons heart disease is on the rise, however; Dr. Binkley theorizes that money might have an effect, as well. “My guess is that younger people are just not getting to a physician regularly to monitor their risk factors, maybe due to insurance purposes," he says. "The efforts of Obamacare were to make insurance available so younger people could take advantage of it. It concerns me they aren’t getting their regular health care.”
Additionally, the study — which pulled death files from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiological Research to form its conclusions — noted that racial discrepancies are at play, too. The study found that Black men and Black women, respectively, were 2.6 times and 2.97 times more likely to die of heart failure than white men and women. In 1999, researchers from the American Heart Association discovered that a mutation of the angiotensin converting enzyme can make African Americans particularly more sensitive to salt, which can increase blood pressure, and thus contribute to heart failure.
But beyond genetic predispositions, implicit bias can also lead to premature deaths in people of color. As many studies and reports have noted, minority patients often lack access to and delivery of quality health care, and thus experience higher rates of morbidity from heart disease and other conditions. At the forefront of the movement towards providing adequate heath care to underrepresented communities is Dr. Binkley’s colleague, Dr. Quinn Capers IV, M.D., who is using the hashtag #BlackMenInMedicine to lobby for a push towards hiring and empowering more Black men in the medical field.
"Women and underrepresented minorities do not necessarily get the same high-level quality of care across this nation as they should," said Dr. Capers IV in an interview with Ohio State. "One important strategy to correcting that is more women and more underrepresented minority physicians.”
With more doctors on the lookout for conditions others might ignore and working in less-represented communities, hopefully fewer people will suffer from a lack of accessibility to proper health care in the coming years than at the present time. The fact that medical technology is continuously evolving at a fast rate also might lead to many young lives being saved in the future, says Dr. Binkley.
“We’ve made incredible strides to improve drug therapy. We now see significant improvements in heart function in as many as 40 percent of patients," he explains. "We have the capability to put in life-saving primary prevention like defibrillators to normalize heart rhythm."
That said, there are some lifestyle changes you can implement to proactively reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Whenever possible, exercise regularly, follow a diet low in cholesterol, and get adequate and efficient sleep — and if your doctor advises, go to therapy and/or take prescribed medications to reduce stress. And, if you're able, get to a doctor the moment you're concerned about your health; early intervention, where a physician can check on your lipid levels and work to reduce your high blood pressure, for instance, can make a massive difference down the line.
When getting checked out, it’s important to notify your physician not just of your personal medical history, but of that of your family. If they have a full picture of your health, they'll be able to provide the best strategies for keeping your heart in good shape at age 35, 45, and beyond.