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Heart attack victims have gotten steadily younger and more obese over the past two decades, according to a study due to be presented next month at the American College of Cardiology conference in Chicago.

The nitty-gritty:

Researchers analyzed risk factors among more than 3,900 patients who were treated at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio between 1995 and 2014. All had suffered the most severe and deadly type of heart attack, which features a complete blockage of one of the main cardiac arteries.


You’ll want to know:

The average age of patients treated for this condition in the first five years of the study was 64. That steadily decreased over time; the average age of more recent patients was 6o. More recent patients also had a lot more risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Fewer than 30 percent of patients treated in the first five-year span smoked, for instance — but 46 percent of those treated most recently did. The rate of hypertension among the patients increased from 55 percent in the early years to 77 percent more recently.

What they’re saying:

“I was not expecting to find that people have become more obese and more diabetic,” said lead researcher Dr. Samir Karpadia, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist. “I was hoping to find less of both.”

Karpadia said the rates of smoking are especially alarming. “We found this risk factor in people with known heart problems,” he said. “It means they knew it was risky and were smoking, anyway.”


But keep in mind:

There could be a bit of good news in those numbers.

“Maybe it just means we’re doing a better job of treating the older people” so they’re not as likely to have a severe heart attack, said Dr. Kirk Knowlton, director of cardiovascular research at Intermountain Heart Institute in Utah. He was not involved in the study.

Knowlton noted, too, that the national smoking rate is decreasing overall, even though the study found that heart attack victims these days are more likely to be smokers.

The bottom line:

Both doctors point out that the study looked at just one hospital, and, therefore, might not represent heart patients nationally. “We want to be careful not to conclude that people are taking such terrible care of themselves that they’re having heart attacks at younger ages,” said Knowlton.

Karpadia called for everyone to pay more attention to prevention. “The primary care physicians and the patient need to take ownership of this problem,” he said.