As Louis Tomlinson's sister dies of a suspected cardiac arrest, why are heart attacks in young people on the rise?

The number of young people suffering from heart attacks is on the rise [Photo: Getty]

One Direction star Louis Tomlinson’s sister Felicite has tragically died after suffering a suspected cardiac arrest aged just 18.

Though the aspiring fashion designer’s death is being treated as unexplained by police and the exact cause won’t be revealed until after the post-mortem, it is suspected the teenager may have suffered a heart attack.

We tend to think of heart attacks as something that happen to the older generation, and that heart health isn’t necessarily something young people have to worry about, but recent research has revealed that heart attacks in the under 40s are on the rise.

According to research being presented at the American College of Cardiology‘s 68th Annual Scientific Session, the proportion of very young people having a heart attack has been increasing, rising by 2% each year for the last 10 years.

The study, which is the first to compare young (41-50 years old) to very young (40 or younger) heart attack survivors, found that among patients who suffer a heart attack at a young age overall, 1 in 5 is 40 or younger. 

What’s more, despite their relatively young age, 20 and 30 somethings have the same rate of bad outcomes after a heart attack, including death, as those who are about 10 years older.

“It used to be incredibly rare to see anyone under age 40 come in with a heart attack — and some of these people are now in their 20s and early 30s,” senior study author Dr. Ron Blankstein, a preventive cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a statement.

“Based on what we are seeing, it seems that we are moving in the wrong direction.”

READ MORE: More women are having heart attacks in pregnancy

Among over-75s, around one in eight people in Britain has had a heart attack. But in under-45s the figure falls to one in two thousand. Though this still remains rare, across the whole country that still amounts to a lot of people whose heart health is being impacted. 

What’s causing a rise in heart attacks in young people?

Though more research is needed to better understand why heart attacks are increasing among young people, Dr Chaturvedi, expert in adolescent medicine from concierge doctor service, HealthClic, believes lifestyle factors could be playing a part in the rise. 

“There is more stress and anxiety in society today, the type of food we eat is and  obesity is rampant and young people are less physically active than before,” he explains.

“Drug misuse in the young is still quoted as common and may be responsible for some sudden cardiac death cases,” he adds. 

What are the risk factors for young people?

“Some top of the list causes of sudden death in young people related to heart include; Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HOCM) which is an inherited condition where heart muscles are thicker than normal,  abnormalities of the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart, abnormalities of Electrocardiogram like prolonged QT syndrome (an inherited inherited heart rhythm problem). Other rare causes include structural abnormalities of heart – inflammation of the heart muscles,” Dr Chaturvedi explains. 

If any family member has signs of HOCM or has heart problems in past, no matter their age, should have full heart health checkup annually as preventive measure. 

“There is a common misconception that young people will not suffer heart attacks/heart disease because they may be slim and fit, but this is incorrect,” Dr Chaturvedi continues. “An annual checkup for young people is just as important and age/weight is not always a factor.” 

 

What are the symptoms of heart attack in young people?

Dr Chaturvedi says that some of the symptoms of heart attack are central or left side chest pains, with or without radiation to left arm, left side jaw or left shoulder. “It may come with or without Shortness of breath (SOB) sweating,” he adds. 

“Sometimes there are some subtle presentations such as feeling unwell, or a feeling of ‘doom’. ANd also pain in the upper abdomen or discomfort may be due to heart attack,” he continues.

 

But Dr Chaturvedi says that at times there may not be any warning symptoms.

What should you do if you think a young person is having a heart attack?  

  “Any person with above symptoms or having heart attack must contact health professional immediately,” urges Dr Chaturvedi.

“If you are with a young person with above symptoms who may be having heart attack call 999 immediately and they will guide you through the steps and what to do. Stay with the patient, keep them calm and relaxed and try to give them some sips of water if possible. But, 999 on the phone will guide you through what to do while an ambulance arrives.” 

READ MORE: How heart attack symptoms can be different for females

Why are more young people suffering heart attacks? [Photo: Getty]

READ MORE: Scientists pinpoint the exact time you’re most likely to have a heart attack

What can young people do to protect themselves from heart disease?

Heart disease is a condition, which can affect anyone so here are ten ways you can make your heart healthier, no matter your age.

Quit smoking

If you’re a smoker take drastic steps to quit to protect yourself from heart disease. “Smoking is one of the main causes of coronary heart disease but if you do quit, your risk of having a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker,” Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, Director and GP at Your Doctor explains.

Up your exercise

You should do about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every week to reduce your risk of heart disease. “This is just 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. This can be broken down into three episodes of 10 min activities,” Dr Di Cuffa says.

Overhaul your diet

Stick to a diet low in fats and sugars. “If you’re overweight, then you should take steps to lose weight in order to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. If you do this gradually, sugar cravings are minimised,” Dr Di Cuffa suggests.

Drink less alcohol

“Regular or high alcohol intake can lead to heart disease called cardiomyopathy,” explains Dr Di Cuffa. “Binge drinking can cause irregular heart rhythms called arrhythmias. Alcohol contains a lot of calories that can have a big impact on how you manage your weight.”

Manage stress

“Excessive stress over a long period of time can cause heart attacks so it’s important that you do not overwork or overload yourself in order to protect yourself from developing heart disease,” Dr Di Cuffa says.

Balance your cholesterol

We need cholesterol to be healthy but an imbalance of cholesterol in your blood can lead to heart attack or stroke. “In order to balance your cholesterol, you should eat healthy fats and reduce the amount of processed food, sugar and flour in your diet,” he says.

Increase your oily fish intake

“Oily fish contains huge amounts of omega-3 fats, which is a mineral that helps protect against heart disease,” says Dr Di Cuffa. “Salmon, sardines and tuna are all great sources of omega-3. However, pregnant women should not eat more than two portions of oily fish a week.”

Start eating more fibre

Experts say that 30g of fibre a day can reduce the risk of developing heart disease. You can get fibre from foods like wholemeal bread, bran, oats, potato skins, fruit and vegetables.

Go salt-less

Dr Di Cuffa recommends cutting down the salt in your diet (particularly sodium salts) as it can affect your blood pressure which increases your risk of heart disease. “The salt we consume is usually already in the foods we buy so it’s important to check the labels of what you’re buying,” he says.

“Microwave meals are notorious for having a huge amount of salt in – it’s always better to cook from scratch so you’re more aware of what’s going into your food.”

Eat your 5-a-day (at least!)

“Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day will mean your body is absorbing a good amount of vitamins and minerals which in turn will help your body fight against heart disease,” Dr Di Cuffa explains. “There is a push towards 7-10 portions a day but we would encourage you to build this into your diet gradually.”