Most people think heart disease is a health problem only older people should be concerned about. Correspondent Anne Peterson of CBS affiliate KCTV-TV in Kansas City, Mo. reports a combination of risk factors have made baby boomers increasingly vulnerable.
The reality check for younger Americans is when the disease strikes without warning.
"It was very sudden, very unexpected. I never had any idea I had anything worry about," says 48-year-old David Rabonivitz.
Like many baby boomers David knew he had a family history of heart disease but failed to pay attention to it.
He didn't take the necessary precautions to reduce his risk and subsequently suffered a heart attack. Currently he's undergoing rehabilitation at Baptist Medical Center in Kansas City and has made several changes to his lifestyle.
"Two main things, I totally changed the way I eat. I avoid cholesterol, fat, in my food and also I quit smoking. That's the most important thing." David says.
The strongest risk factor is smoking, says Cardiologist Dr. Robert Herman. About seventy-percent of heart-attack patients smoke, he says.
Dr. Herman says high cholesterol increases also heart attack risk by contributing to plaque buildup inside the heart. Older people have greater plaque buildup over time, but Dr. Herman says even mild plaque in young people can be deadly.
"These mild plaques are not safe. In the younger populationÂ…unfortunately we see people who drop dead or have sudden death," he says.
Many young people have developed a false sense of security. They don't think about prevention or worry about getting sick because with new drugs and advancements in treatment it easy to think if a problem occurs the medical community can fix it.
If you have sudden changes in your activity level, chest tightness, or neck discomfort that occurs with exercise or goes away, these warning signs should not be ignored.
Although the majority of people who suffer from heart disease are older Americans, approximately 125,000 people under age 45 have heart attacks every year. Doctors recommend listening to your body and getting help immediately if you have any symptoms at all.