3 signs of heart problems in young adults, from a cardiologist

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  • Heart attacks are becoming more common in adults under the age of 40.
  • It is important to know the signs of heart disease at any age, even early adulthood.
  • See a doctor if you are unusually short of breath or faint after exercise.

Many people under 40 do not consider themselves at risk for heart problems, according to a recent survey from Ohio State University. But heart attack statistics from the past two decades tell a different story.

Even though the overall rate of heart attacks in the United States has declined since 2000, cardiac events have become more common among those under age 40, according to a landmark study published in 2019. Additionally, the youngest heart attack survivors were just as likely to die of a future heart attack as the group of middle-aged survivors.

Most heart conditions that affect young people have nonspecific symptoms, such as dizziness or shortness of breath, preventative cardiologist Marc Katz told Insider. Getting checked out by a doctor is the only surefire way to rule out a cardiac cause.

“Sometimes a simple physical exam, like listening to someone’s heart, can help us assess if there’s something wrong with the heart muscle that needs further investigation,” Katz said.

Katz, who is 33, said some of his friends would text him for non-emergency medical advice. But not everyone has a doctor in their back pocket, and even medical professionals have missed the signs of their own heart attacks.

Here are three key signs that you should get screened for heart disease at any age, even between your 20s and 30s.

Shortness of breath during exercise

Katz said he has seen many patients complain of shortness of breath after exercising for the first time in a long time.

“Because they’re trying to get back in shape, they can’t answer the simple question, ‘Am I out of shape or is it something more serious?'”

Answering that question can be as simple as doing an exercise test to measure heart function during physical activity, Katz said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a stress test can reveal whether the underlying problem is a blockage in blood flow — which would indicate heart disease, especially in older patients — or an irregular heartbeat, called an arrhythmia.

“For younger patients, again, it takes that one-on-one conversation with a physician to really elucidate whether it seems more serious or not,” Katz said.

Fainting or dizziness

Although fainting isn’t always heart-related, it can be a sign of reduced blood flow to and from the vital organ.

“If you ever pass out, especially if you’re exercising and you pass out, those are symptoms you should 100% seek medical attention for,” Katz said.

Other symptoms of palpitations, dizziness and vertigo should also set off alarm bells for young and healthy people, he said.

Rapid or irregular heartbeats

If you feel like your heart is beating too fast, too slow, or skipping a beat, you should see a cardiologist to rule out a functional problem.

Heart palpitations can also be associated with anxiety or stress, but Katz said anxiety is “diagnose or rule out” for cardiologists. Without a test to assess heart rate and muscle function, nothing says that anxiety alone makes the heart beat.

“Often, patients with anxiety can have palpitations which can make them more anxious, and that anxiety can make them have more palpitations,” Katz said.

Sometimes seeing a cardiologist can relieve a patient’s anxiety even if there is nothing wrong with the heart. A simple reading like an EKG can arm patients and providers with more information, giving everyone some peace of mind.

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