AHA: Heart disease rates ‘rising’ for adults under 40


Ask a young person about heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular disease, and they’ll refer you to the “old folks.”
But the American Heart Association reports on its website that “we lose an American to heart disease and stroke every 39 seconds. For young adults under the age of 40,” the rates “are rising.”
Many people under the age of 40 may not have a firm grasp on the initial signs of a heart problem. In a 2016 article written by the American Council on Science and Health, “chest pressure, shortness of breath, cold sweats” individually could be “signs of heatstroke, asthma or even the side effects of an emotional outburst. But collectively, they can be misdiagnosed signs of a heart attack especially if you’re someone under 40.”
The report then states that “silent, undetected disorders of the heart’s pumping rhythm, along with premature heart disease, account for many of the sudden cardiac events in younger, seemingly healthy individuals.”
Thus, the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Heart Association (AHA) has established the Young Professionals division. Its mission is the same as the AHA but geared to a younger demographic. “The YP members shall share their resources, time and talents and serve as representatives within their community to bring about awareness of heart disease and stroke as well as promoting activities, events and volunteerism to members and non-members in the Pittsburgh community,” its mission statement reads.
THE PITTSBURGH AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION YOUNG PROFESSIONALS, some of whom are pictured here, advocate a healthy lifestyle to a younger demographic. (Photo courtesy American Heart Association)

“They’ve been going strong for about a year, and they’re always looking for new members,” said Karen Colbert, senior director of communications and marketing for the Pittsburgh American Heart Association. “The stigma is that heart disease is an old person’s disease when in fact it’s not. The (Young Professionals) are trying to promote awareness that at any age you need to start to pay attention to your health with healthy lifestyles.”
There are 22 members in the Young Professionals division, and Colbert said those interested in joining can visit www.heart.org/pittsburgh.
Many of the Young Professionals members will undoubtedly be at the AHA’s Power of Laughter Health Workshop & Comedy Luncheon, Sept. 15, at the Westin hotel, Downtown. It’s the seventh edition, which features free health screenings, a silent auction, exhibitors and an educational workshop, followed by the comedy luncheon.

Kim Coles is this year’s special guest. Fans of the ‘90s TV show “Living Single” know Coles as Synclaire, but over her storied career, she has appeared in countless movies and TV shows, along with serving as game show host of BET’s “Pay it Off” in 2009.
“She’s such as pleasure and has a passion for our mission because she truly walks the walk,” Colbert told the Courier of Coles. “She’s an advocate for healthy lifestyle, healthy living, she talks about watching your salt and monitoring your blood pressure…those are things that we promote at the luncheon.”
Of course, the word “comedy” is an important part of the Pittsburgh American Heart Association’s “Comedy Luncheon.”
“Laughing is good for your health,” Colbert said. “There are messages in what we talk about in every aspect but we also like to laugh…The AHA isn’t preaching to you, it’s empowering you, laughing at ourselves and having a good time and hoping you absorb the information.”
Colbert said Coles will host a game show-style skit during the luncheon, similar to Jeopardy! “It will be funny, but it will have real life messages,” Colbert added.
The Power of Laughter event attracts a large audience each year, and this year is no different. Colbert said tickets are no longer available.
The local AHA is also holding a hands-only CPR demonstration. Colbert said that “heart disease is the number one killer,” and that “it’s most prevalent among African Americans because of the risk factors” such as high blood pressure.
That’s why Colbert and the local AHA are pushing people to follow a simple, two-step approach to administering CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
If someone goes into cardiac arrest in front of them, such as at a mall or amusement park, “you direct somebody in the crowd to call 9-1-1,” Colbert said. “While that person is calling 9-1-1, push hard and fast in the center of the chest until EMS arrives. What that does is that preserves the oxygen already in the body. It should be (at a pace of) 100-120 beats per minute, similar to ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees or ‘Crazy in Love’ by Beyonce and Jay-Z.”
From the Young Professionals, to the comedy luncheon, to the upcoming Heart Walk (Oct. 20 at Heinz Field), the Pittsburgh AHA strives to promote a healthier lifestyle for everyone. When it pertains to heart disease, it may sound overwhelming—cardiac arrest, stroke, and heart attack are terms that no one wants to hear. But Colbert said oftentimes, it’s the “simple steps” that people can take early on that could help prevent heart disease.
“We can’t say it enough, you have to know what your blood pressure is,” Colbert said. She encourages people to purchase a self-monitoring cuff from a local drugstore as a way to continuously monitor blood pressure. “Your body may not put out the signs of high blood pressure,” she said. “That’s why we call it the silent killer.”
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