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February 19, 2003


Emory Heart Study Concludes Young Adults With Heart Disease Have Dramatically Increased Risk of Death

ATLANTA - Young people who smoke, are overweight and/or have diabetes are often not concerned about these risk factors for heart disease -- they assume heart attacks and stroke only happen to folks who are much older. But a new Emory study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concludes that people under 40 who are diagnosed with coronary artery disease have a dramatically increased risk of death.

"In fact, a third were dead at follow-up and, for those with diabetes, the death rate was almost two out of three," says study author Joe Miller III, MD, an Emory Heart Center cardiologist and assistant professor of preventative cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine.

Emory researchers studied the medical records of 843 young adult heart patients (with an average age of 35 for women and 36 for men) who were diagnosed with one or more coronary artery blockages between 1975 and 1985. Dr. Miller and his colleagues found that by age 50, about thirty-three percent of these patients had died.

The highest death rate was observed in patients with heart failure and/or those who had suffered a previous heart attack. Smoking was also found to greatly increase the risk of death.

"This study, once again, points out how dangerous smoking is to heart health. Patients who continued to smoke had a six times greater risk of death than those who didn't smoke," says Dr. Miller. "The good news is that the risk for people who quit smoking drops to almost that of non-smokers. However, the bad news is that even if diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are treated aggressively, the cardiovascular risk does not go down for people who continue to smoke."

Although an actual diagnosis of blocked coronary arteries is fairly unusual in people under 40, Dr. Miller sys the Emory study is a wake-up call that heart disease can be a serious -- and potentially deadly -- problem for younger adults.

"Some studies have shown that even teenagers can have the beginning of coronary artery disease," he says. "Although genetics can play a role, lifestyle factors are also important in the development of heart disease. You are never too young to reduce the risk factors you can control -- including stopping smoking, losing weight if you need to and reducing cholesterol to a healthy level with diet and medication if appropriate. Regular exercise and controlling diabetes are also key to helping prevent cardiovascular disease."

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