HONOLULU (KHON2) — A new study has been published that links the increase in heart attacks amongst adults between the ages of 25 and 44 to COVID-19.

The study was conducted by the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and published in the Journal of Medical Virology.

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Researchers discovered that overall heart attacks increased for all age groups since the onset of the pandemic by 14 percent.

By the second year of the pandemic [2022], heart attacks for the 45-64 age group increased by 19.6% and for the 65 and older group had increased by 13.7%.

However, it was the youngest age group [25-44] that had the highest increase of nearly 30%.

“There are several potential explanations for the rapid rise in cardiac deaths in patients with COVID-19, yet still many unanswered questions,” said Yee Hui Yeo, MD, first author of the study and a Cedars-Sinai physician-scientist.

“Importantly, our results highlight disparities in mortality that have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic and that are persisting even through the Omicron era,” added Yeo. 

Researchers said that prior to the pandemic, world statistics on heart attacks were decreasing but the pandemic had interrupted that progress.

“The dramatic rise in heart attacks during the pandemic has reversed what was a prior decades-long steady improvement in cardiac deaths,” said Yeo. “We are still learning the many ways by which COVID-19 affects the body, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or race.”

The team believes that there are possible explanations even this early in the research. They said that COVID-19 may trigger or accelerate those with the pre-existing condition of coronary artery disease.

There are external factors that the team point to for understanding this dramatic rise in heart attacks. Things like job loss, financial pressures and social anxiety which increased during the quarantine are seen as potential factors. All of these can cause acute or chronic stress which leads to heart disease.

“There is something very different about how this virus affects the cardiac risks,” said Susan Cheng, M.D. MPH, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute and senior and co-corresponding author of the study.

“The difference is likely due to a combination of stress and inflammation, arising from predisposing factors and the way this virus biologically interacts with the cardiovascular system,” added Cheng. 

Here in Hawai’i, physicians are seeing similar trends amongst patients. KHON2 checked in with Queen’s Health Systems to find out how these increased health problems are impacting residents.

“The pandemic has definitely had a negative effect on people’s health, and we are seeing that through this study. In Hawaii, we are also seeing an increase in COVID-related heart conditions in all ages,” said Dr. Zia Khan, Chief of Queen’s Heart Institute.

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Dr. Khan went on to explain “that is why it is important to take steps to be healthy. That includes eating right, getting enough rest and exercise, as well as seeing your doctor regularly. February is Heart Month, a time when everyone should be paying attention to their health.”