Common Health Problems  »  General Health Conditions


Experts at the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association say that too much fast food, too much alcohol, and too many sugary drinks are putting people aged 18 to 24 at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Heart disease is a common term for coronary artery disease (CAD). It is the number one cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. If you don’t think you need to be concerned about that now, think again. Narrowing of the arteries begins in childhood. And, as childhood obesity increases, so does the risk of CAD. Start now to control heart disease risk factors that you can.

Signs & Symptoms

  1. Symptoms of angina are pain, discomfort, or a squeezing pressure in the chest. Aching in a tooth, jaw, or neck can also occur. Symptoms usually go away with rest and/or nitroglycerin. Angina attacks may occur with anger, excitement, or exertion, such as walking up a hill.

  2. Symptoms of a heart attack.

  3. Symptoms of heart failure are: Shortness of breath; feeling very tired or weak; swelling in the lower legs, ankles, and feet; dry cough or one with pink, frothy mucus; rapid weight gain; and a fast heart beat.


Heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis. This is the buildup of plaque in the inner walls of the arteries. The plaque is made up of blood platelets, cholesterol, fibrous tissue, and sometimes calcium. The plaque narrows the arteries. This slows or blocks the flow of blood to the heart. Some factors increase the risk of heart disease. The more risk factors; the higher the risk.

Risk Factors That Can Be Changed

  1. Being overweight or obese.

  2. Lack of physical activity.

  3. High blood pressure.

  4. High-risk blood cholesterol levels.

  5. Having diabetes and high-risk blood cholesterol levels.

  6. Smoking and / or secondhand smoke.

  7. Using cocaine or amphetamines. Abuse of these can cause a sudden heart attack even in people with no signs of heart disease

  8. Metabolic syndrome.

Risk Factors That Can’t Be Controlled

  1. A past heart attack or stroke.

  2. Family history of heart disease:

  3. -A father or brother had heart disease before age 55.

  4. -A mother or sister had heart disease before age 65.

  5. Being a male 45 years or older.

  6. Being a female 55 years or older.

Other Factors that May Play a Role in Heart Disease

  1. Waist measurement > 40 inches in men; > 35 inches in women.

  2. Infections, such as Chlamydia pneumoiae.

  3. Elevated blood lipoprotein (a).

  4. Elevated blood triglycerides.

As atherosclerosis worsens, these health problems can result:

  1. Heart attack.

  2. Angina. With this, the heart muscle does not get as much blood and oxygen for a given level of work. A heart attack damages the heart muscle. Angina does not. It is a warning sign that a heart attack could occur.

  3. Heart failure (HF). With this, the heart “fails” to supply the body with enough blood and oxygen for its needs. This develops slowly and becomes chronic.

Self-Care / Prevention

  1. Have regular medical checkups. Get your blood pressure checked at each office visit or at least every 2 years. Get your blood cholesterol tested, as advised by your doctor.

  2. If you participate in organized sports, get a thorough physical exam and discuss your personal and family’s health history of shortness of breath, passing out, racing heart, chest pain, and excessive fatigue with physical exertion.

  3. Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit.

  4. Get to or stay at a healthy weight.

  5. Take all medications as prescribed.

  6. Ask your doctor about the benefits and harms of aspirin therapy (e.g., 1 baby aspirin daily).

  7. Watch for signs of diabetes. See your doctor if you have any.

  8. Follow a diet low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Limit sodium to 1,500 to 2,400 milligrams per day. Follow the DASH Eating Plan.

  9. Get regular exercise. Follow your doctor’s advice.

  10. Manage stress. Practice relaxation techniques.

  11. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Too much alcohol can raise the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. Moderate drinking, may be linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease in some persons. Moderation means no more than 2 drinks a day for men; 1 drink a day for women and persons age 65 and older. One drink = 4 oz. of wine; 12 oz. of beer; or 1-1/2 oz. of 80 proof liquor.

  12. Ask your doctor how much, if any, alcohol you should drink.

  13. Get your doctor’s advice about taking vitamins, minerals, and herbal products.

Questions to Ask

Is any heart attack warning sign present?

Do angina symptoms not respond to prescribed medicine or fail to go away in 10 to 15 minutes?

Does severe shortness of breath (with or without wheezing) occur in a person with heart failure?

Does a person with heart failure have any of these problems?

  1. Unexplained weight gain of 3 to 5 pounds.

  2. Mild shortness of breath and a cough with pink or frothy mucus.

  3. The flu or a cold.

  4. Heart failure symptoms get worse.

The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms, control or reduce risk factors, stop or slow further damage to the arteries, and prevent and treat cardiac events. Treatment includes:

  1. Self-Care / Prevention measures below.

  2. Medications.

  3. Procedures to open blocked or narrowed arteries or bypass them.

  4. Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab).

Do any of these problems occur?

  1. Chest pain with exertion and the pain goes away with rest.

  2. Shortness of breath or fatigue when doing normal activities or when lying down.

  3. Swelling in the legs or ankles. Shoes can feel too tight all of a sudden.


The American Heart Association


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome increases the risk for heart disease, as well as diabetes and stroke. For children and adolescents ages 10-16 years old, the International Diabetes Federation defines metabolic syndrome as abdominal obesity – a waist circumference at the 90th percentile plus at least two of the following conditions:

  1. High blood pressure (systolic pressure of 130 mm Hg or higher or diastolic pressure of 85 mm Hg or higher).

  2. Fasting plasma glucose of 100 mg/dL or higher.

  3. Triglycerides of 150 mg/dL or higher.

  4. HDL (good) cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL.

In persons age 16 years and older, metabolic syndrome includes a cluster of the conditions listed above plus a waist measurement > 40 inches in men; > 35 inches in women.

In childhood and adolescence, metabolic syndrome has increased from about 2% in the mid-1990s to about 10% now. Metabolic syndrome in childhood has been linked with the adult metabolic syndrome, subclinical hardening of the arteries, and type 2 diabetes.

Other Heart Problem in Teens and Young Adults

Heart Problems & Binge Drinking

Both binge drinking and long-term drinking can affect how quickly a heart beats. The heart depends on an internal pacemaker system to keep it pumping consistently and at the right speed. Alcohol disturbs this pacemaker system and causes the heart to beat too rapidly, or irregularly. These heart rate abnormalities are called arrhythmias. Drinking to excess on a particular occasion, especially when you generally don’t drink, can trigger either of these irregularities. Over the long-term, chronic drinking changes the course of electrical impulses that drive the heart’s beating, which creates arrhythmia.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)

This is a rare genetic condition that is the most common cause of sudden, unexpected cardiac death in12-32 year old athletes. With HCM, muscle fibers in the heart thicken and stiffen. The heart muscle enlarges. The heart has a difficult time pumping blood throughout the body. Heart rhythm can sped up and become erratic. Blood is not able to get to vital organs including the brain which leads to passing out. 

With exercise or exertion, have you ever had a racing heart, shortness of breath, felt light-headed or did you faint?