The changing face of heart disease includes younger people, doctors say

The changing face of heart disease includes younger people, doctors say
(Source: wdam)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - In decades past, heart disease seemed to have a vendetta against a classic type of patient, quietly eating away at its victims as they indulged in their habits. The illness was a serial killer, and the victim was clear: older, male smokers with high cholesterol.

With time, death rates from heart disease and strokes have seen big declines. Now, the silent killer is making a comeback and has set its sights on a new victim.

“The population is getting more and more obese and they’re developing more bad habits, smoking for instance. More young people smoke today than in the recent past,” said Dr. Antoine Keller, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Baton Rouge General. “Young people think it’s cool to smoke and vape and do all these things. We have seen the incidents of cardiovascular disease increase because of that.”

A survey done in 2018 says there has been a dramatic increase in young people across the country using e-cigarettes, popularly known as “vape pens" and “vapes.” Usage jumped from 11.7% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018 among high school students. Among middle school aged kids, usage jumped from 3.3% in 2017 to 4.9% in 2018. It’s the newest form of an old habit.

Laws have been slow to catch up to prevent teens from unsupervised access to the devices, and kids aren’t always aware they can be just as detrimental to their health as a cigarette.


  • Smoking substitutes have a multitude of toxins that are just as bad as smoking cigarettes
  • They may not contain as much tar or nicotine as the cigarettes, but they do have toxins and byproducts of the chemicals that are contained within these solutions that people smoke that are injurious to the cardiovascular system
  • They chelate all the minerals out of your system
  • They cause free radical injury and damage
  • They hurt the lungs and cardiovascular system as well

“They’re not safer than cigarettes. They’re not an appropriate substitute for cigarettes because they’re just as harmful to your body as cigarettes are. Some of them are more harmful to your body than cigarettes are,” said Keller.

Progress in treating heart disease stalls

In addition to younger smokers, obesity rates have risen for young adults. Most of those people are also pre-diabetic, vastly increasing their risk for heart disease in the future.

Louisiana has the sixth highest rate of obesity in the nation, 37% for ages 26 through 44, and 43% for ages 45 to 64. The American Diabetes Association estimates more than one third of adults in Louisiana are pre-diabetic and considered at risk of developing health complications, including heart disease and strokes.

“A lot of people will have a difficult week and then on Saturday and Sunday, they just eat too much and drink too much,” said Keller.

Falling into poor eating habits can be even easier with the help of food delivery services, especially during the day-to-day grind most young adults experience. It’s important not to allow that to become an excuse.

“Everybody has a busy life, and there are ways that you can prepare foods in a very short period of time where you can have healthy options,” said Keller.


  • Foods that are low in fat and low in cholesterol
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a plus
  • Fish and chicken are the best things for you as far as a healthy lifestyle is concerned
  • Pork and beef in moderation. Don’t overindulge.

“We just have to make sure that we can a steady state and not overindulge during those times when we feel we need a break,” said Keller.

One thing that helps is coordinating with loved ones to help keep each other accountable.


  • It’s important to have a wingman or a workout buddy. It’s more fun when you do it with someone else.
  • Encourage friends to participate in weight control activities and exercises, and promote cardiovascular fitness activities among peers
  • For women especially, much of their time can be devoted to being a caregiver for others and taking care of everyone else. It’s important to share responsibilities with others and designate times to focus on taking care of yourself.
  • Talk with your immediate family to understand if someone in your family has been found to have heart disease
  • Always share with a doctor if you have a family history of heart disease. People who have a family history are more at risk than people without a family history. If you know someone in your family who had a heart attack or stroke, you would definitely be wise to visit your doctor on a more regular basis.
  • Go to your doctor regularly so they can keep you optimized on all of the modifiable risk factors
  • Keep your loved ones as healthy as you can and encourage them to be fit and to eat a low fat, low cholesterol diet

“The thing that we try to counsel patients on is there are things that you can control and things that you cannot control. Things you can’t control we call non-modifiable risk factors, things like your age, your sex. You can’t pick you parents. You have the genes that you have for the rest of your life,” said Keller. "It’s important for you to modify your lifestyle to ensure that you have a healthy lifestyle for a long time. It is behavior modification and if you are cognizant of this and you make an effort to modify your behavior for the long term, you can live a long, happy life just like anybody else.”

That also includes filling your time with extracurricular activities that promote heart health.


  • Get your heart rate up to 70% of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes per day, for 60 minutes if you want weight control
  • Fun runs and fun walks around Louisiana
  • Obstacle course
  • Races and triathlons

For those who are at risk, it’s important to understand heart disease is not always a death sentence. One of the things that has changed in recent years is heart disease is better treated by the medication. People are better able to control their risk for diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure, so people are living a lot longer with the disease than they previously have.

“People can live long, healthy lives with cardiovascular disease. There are people who live into their 90s and even into their 100s with cardiovascular disease,” said Keller. “The things you can control, you have to optimize the best you can. You have to not smoke, not smoke, not smoke. You have to control your diabetes with the medication you’re given by your doctor. We have to control your blood pressure, and you have to control your cholesterol."

Still, even with better treatments, the focus is now on preventative care, especially among a younger demographic as progress for fighting back against the disease continues to stall.

“We are getting better medical treatment for patients with cardiovascular disease and yet it still remains the leading cause of death in America,” said Keller.


  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat a low fat, low cholesterol diet
  • Get some form of exercise everyday, even if it’s walking up and down a flight of stairs
  • Take medicines as prescribed by healthcare professionals
  • Visit doctors as directed

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