Often people think: “It can’t happen to me. I can’t get heart disease, because I’m too young.”The truth is quite different. You don’t have to be old to be stricken with heart disease. While it’s true that age is an important risk factor for heart disease, you don’t have to be an octogenarian to discover that the arteries to your heart are narrowed by dangerous cholesterol buildup.Yesterday, I was reviewing a heart catheterization (a special x-ray test where dye is used to visualize the heart arteries) with one of my surgical colleagues. I didn’t know the person’s age, but if I had to have guessed I would have thought that the person was in their mid-seventies or late eighties.
The man’s coronary arteries where loaded with cholesterol deposits. The x-rays demonstrated that the width of the vessels were less than 1/3 their normal size. The artery supplying the back side of the heart had an 80% blockage, and the person’s right coronary artery was completely blocked.
When I was told that the patient was 36 years old, I could only shake my head. Having this amount of disease at such a young age didn’t make it likely that the person would live to an old age. Yet, you never know- that’s the beauty and mystery of life. Although things don’t look so good now, we never know what’s going to happen. Perhaps the man will stop smoking and dramatically change his eating habits. Finding out that he has severely blocked heart arteries could be just the wake up call he needs to begin changing his life.Twenty years of practicing medicine has made it clear to me that doctors don’t have all the answers. The people you think don’t have a chance in the world, sometimes live to be a hundred. On the other hand, someone can appear healthy and drop dead tomorrow. One thing I do know, just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t have heart disease.
Take a look at what you’re eating, smoking, and your activity level. If you’re a couch potato and dramatically overweight you might need to seriously examine your heart health?
Heart disease doesn’t just afflict the very old. It calls on young people too
Originally posted October 31st, 2007