People too often assume that heart failure patients are all elderly with long histories of heart problems. But heart disease can and does affect people of all ages, says Rola Khedraki, MD, an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist at Scripps Clinic Anderson Medical Pavilion.
“It’s a really important message for young people who tend to sometimes think that they’re invincible,” she says. “At the end of the day, our lives are very fragile, and heart disease knows no age.”
There are several things people, young and old, can do to keep their hearts healthier, says Dr. Khedraki.
“We call these ‘modifiable risk factors,’ because we can actually intervene if you’re not at target to decrease your lifetime risk of developing heart disease,” Dr. Khedraki explains.
Symptoms like shortness of breath, chest discomfort, palpitations, lightheadedness, dizziness and swelling in your legs or abdomen are signs that something’s not right.
“You know your body best,” she says. “Ask your doctor about these symptoms.”
Heart health can have genetic ties. If anyone in your family has a history of high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, heart rhythm abnormalities or heart attack, it’s worth knowing.
“The majority of these are adult-onset conditions,” Dr. Khedraki says. “The younger the onset in family members, the more aggressive we have to be about screening.”
Bad behaviors are hard on your heart. “Alcohol, substance abuse, smoking, poor sleep hygiene and emotional and mental stress all have a cumulative effect on our heart health,” she says. “Many people don’t realize how toxic they are on the heart and that they are associated with heart attack and heart failure in all age groups.”
Dr. Khedraki says we can all be prepared to help save a life by knowing basic chest compressions for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, better known as CPR.
“The death statistics of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest are grim, but if performed promptly, CPR can double or triple the chance of a person’s survival,” she says.
Bystander CPR can give patients precious time before they reach the hospital, improving their outcomes.
One in 300 youths has an undetected heart condition. Dr. Khedraki advises parents to sign their teens up for free heart screenings, like those offered by San Diego’s Eric Paredes Save a Life Foundation.
Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death on school campuses and the No. 1 killer of student-athletes.
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.