Young at heart: Why more young adults are having heart attacks in the Mid-South

(Source: WMC)
(Source: WMC)
Updated: May. 20, 2019 at 9:45 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s a wake up call for people in their 20s and 30s. A new study shows more young people are having heart attacks under 40, sometimes without warning.

In 2008, Allyson Youngblood was a 24-year-old mother of three when her heart stopped. Her youngest child was just 2 months old.

“I wasn’t expecting them to tell me I had had a heart attack because I’m thinking, I’m 24,” said Youngblood.

At 25, Denzell Coffee was training for a new job when he suffered a massive heart attack that put him in a coma for six days.

“The first thing the doctor asked me was what is your name?” said Coffee. “I said my name is Denzell. She asked what day is it? I said today is Saturday. She said no, you’ve been in a coma. Today is Thursday.”

Youngblood and Coffee live just a few miles apart from one another in north Mississippi. They are among a growing number of people who have had heart attacks before age 40.

According to new research out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston presented at the American College of Cardiology, the number of heart attacks occurring in patients 40 or younger has increased 2 percent per year over the past decade.

Researchers say drug and alcohol abuse among the age group contribute to the increase, but other factors are also to blame.

“You look at the Mid-South and we have the highest rate of obesity, diabetes and death from strokes and heart attacks,” said Dr. Yaser Ceema, cardiologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital who also treated Coffee.

According to the Centers of Disease Control, Arkansas and Mississippi are among the few states where 35 percent or more of adults are obese. Tennessee isn’t far behind with 30 to 35 percent.

“Smoking played a factor,” said Coffee. “Not working out played a factor, not eating right played a factor.”

Coffee says he has a history of high blood pressure.

His doctor says he’s even seen high school kids suffer from hypertension.

“Blood pressure has no symptoms on a day-to-day basis,” said Cheema. “You may feel a little bad, but who doesn’t? We all feel tired at the end of the day.”

Youngblood says she didn’t have any risk factors before having her heart attack. She thought bloating was the source of her discomfort.

“Being pregnant, it weakened my heart with each pregnancy,” she said. “Then with the third one it just...”

Youngblood’s 30s delivered a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. Coffee, now 26, lives with a defibrillator almost around the clock. He’s quit smoking and lost 40 pounds.

Both have improved their diets, cutting back on salt and trading fried food for baked meals.

While they’re getting back on track physically, mentally they say it can be lonely being a young heart attack survivor.

“When I go to the doctor’s office, the majority of people there are older, more mature people,” said Youngblood. “I’m always looking for someone who I can sit down and relate to.”

Both describe themselves as helpers, and today that means sharing their stories with as many people as possible in hopes it helps another young person get heart healthy.

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