Early-onset Heart Attack: Its Causes and How to Prevent It

By Amanda Lawrence |
|5 min read

Imagine yourself at your early 20s, when doing some exercise or any strenuous activity you suddenly feel searing chest pain and tightness, difficulty of breathing and then collapse. For someone so young, you may think whether you have a heart attack. Can you have a heart attack at 20? Read on this article to look for possible causes of chest pain and heart attack at an early age.

Early-onset Heart Attack: What Causes It?

Heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is a condition where there is decreased blood supply to the heart muscles, causing cell death and a decrease in its pumping capacity. It then causes a widespread decrease in blood supply, importantly to the lungs and the brain, causing death if not managed immediately.

What causes a heart attack at 20? While the main cause of heart attack for older individuals may include increased blood pressure (which is aggravated by smoking), increased cholesterol levels, elevated blood sugar (as with diabetes), or blood clots and air emboli produced by other medical conditions (such as peripheral arterial disease, fat emboli and air from intravenous catheters), heart attacks experienced by the younger population may be caused by other factors.

The following are the most common causes of heart attack for 20-year old individuals:

1. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or more completely called hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy (HOCM), is a condition wherein there is excessive thickening of the heart muscles. It is most common among young adults which are physically active, involved in sports, extreme activities and those with regular vigorous activities. This condition causes decreased blood supply to the blood vessels of the heart and may cause sudden cardiac death in young adults in their sleep. But its cause is exactly unknown.

2. Kawasaki disease

Wondering if you can have a heart attack at 20? This condition is one of the most plausible causes of heart attack for the young, especially those younger than 10 years old. Kawasaki disease is an autoimmune disease wherein your body attacks its own cells, which may involve the tissues of your heart's blood vessels. This inflammation may then cause coronary artery aneurysms (ballooning of the blood vessels). This aneurysm has thinner walls and is more easy to rupture, causing the decreased blood supply to the heart muscles, causing death.

3. Cardiac scarring

If you are subject to chronic cardiac endurance training, your heart is prone to develop cardiac scars. While subject to these activities, your heart develops microscopic damage, which will then heal on their own, but leaving scars which are not elastic enough as the original heart tissue. As these scars accumulate, your heart and its blood vessels may be unable to supply the demands of your body, causing a heart attack.

4. Hyperhomocysteinemia

Homocysteine is an amino acid which is implicated in several heart diseases, including heart attack. Even though poorly understood, molecular studies show that an increase in its levels may cause hardening of your blood vessels, decreasing the blood supply of the heart tissues, causing a heart attack. Homocystinuria can be genetic, and proper counseling may help in the detection of your risk for heart attack.

Other Causes of Chest Pain

Other conditions may cause chest pain, which is similar to that pain caused by heart attack, and knowing them would help you in ruling heart attack out in case of experiencing chest pain.

1. Less serious causes

The following are conditions that may cause chest pain. As they are less serious causes, you can handle these conditions first at home:

  • Acid reflux
  • Irritation of the diaphragm
  • Viral infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Costochondritis
  • Pleuritis
  • Muscle strain

2. More serious causes

The following are more serious causes of chest pain and require emergency management:

  • Pneumonia or lung abscesses
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pneumothorax
  • Asthma
  • Esophageal dysmotility
  • Esophageal rupture or perforation
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallbladder problems

Preventive Measures for Early-onset Heart Attack

Are you at risk of developing a heart attack at a young age? The following are ways to prevent early-onset heart attacks.

  • Check your heart condition regularly

Regular consultation with a physician may help you monitor your heart's current condition, guided by cardiac imaging and other laboratory examinations.

  • Quit smoking

Smoking is attributed to an increase in the risk of developing a heart attack. Moreover, tobacco has a lot of chemicals which causes vasoconstriction to your heart's blood vessels.

  • Lead an active life

Performing simple exercises like brisk walking and aerobics promote heart health.

  • Lessen cholesterol and sugar intake

These chemicals increase the risk of developing a heart attack by depositing into the blood vessels, causing them to harden and prone to rupture.

  • Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids

These lipids are noted to be anti-inflammatory, hence causing a decrease in inflammation in diseases like Kawasaki disease and atherosclerosis.

  • Lose excessive weight

Losing weight decreases the risk for heart attack by decreasing bad cholesterol that causes hardening of the blood vessels, and increasing good cholesterol.

  • Monitor and treat hypertension

Increased blood pressure poses a lot of stress to the blood vessels, increasing the risk of aneurysms. Maintaining the blood pressure to a normal decrease this risk.

The Bottom Line

After reading our article above, can you have a heart attack at 20? Yes. There are various causes of a heart attack, which can be managed accordingly to decrease the risk. Heart attack on the young and its causes are further explained in this video below:

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