April 2022

Think You’re Too Young for Heart Problems? Think Again

Heart disease is more common with age. If you’re in your 20s, 30s, or 40s, you might believe it’s something you don’t need to worry about right now. Yet it’s never too early to start paying attention to your heart health.

Young adults can develop heart problems, too. The rise in obesity and diabetes at earlier ages only adds to the risk. For 25- to 34-year-olds, heart disease is the fourth-leading cause of death in both sexes. For 35- to 44-year-olds, heart disease is even deadlier—the second-biggest killer of men and third-biggest killer of women.

Taking care of your heart can help prevent heart disease at any age. It also lays the groundwork for a longer, healthier future. Here’s what you need to know about heart problems in young adults.

High blood pressure

Blood pressure tends to rise with age. Yet, by their 20s and early 30s, about 29% of men and 14% of women already have high blood pressure. Compared to their older counterparts, young adults with high blood pressure are less likely to receive treatment and get their blood pressure under control.

High blood pressure that isn’t controlled may lead to problems down the road, including:

  • Heart disease

  • Heart failure

  • Stroke

  • Peripheral arterial disease (poor blood flow to the legs)

  • Kidney disease

High cholesterol

High cholesterol also raises your risk for heart disease and stroke over time. The chance of having high cholesterol increases with age. But among people in their 20s and early 30s, about 9% of men and 5% of women already have the problem.

Unhealthy habits may contribute to high cholesterol. However, some people also have a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), which causes high cholesterol levels at a young age. If FH isn’t diagnosed and treated, it can lead to early risk for heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.

Congenital heart defects

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are problems with the heart’s structure and function that are present at birth. Thanks to medical advances, babies born with heart problems are leading longer, healthier lives. Consequently, there are now more than two million individuals living with CHDs in the U.S.

Some CHDs can be detected during pregnancy. Others may be diagnosed later in life. People with CHDs may be at increased risk for various heart conditions, including:

  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)

  • Cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle)

  • Infective endocarditis (infection of the heart muscle)

What you can do

Don’t let your heart get old before its time. Take these heart-smart steps:

  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Eat a nutritious diet, be physically active, and don’t smoke.

  • Manage conditions that put you at risk. Talk with your health care provider about having your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. If you have diabetes, be sure to carefully monitor your blood sugar levels.

  • Seek treatment when needed. If you have a history of heart disease, work with your healthcare team to manage it. Take any medicine as directed.

Remember: The younger you are, the longer you want your heart to last.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Williams, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2022
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