Premature coronary artery disease (CAD) is also called “early onset CAD.” It means that a younger adult has CAD, though many of the causes and symptoms of CAD are the same at any age.

In the United States, coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. It can affect both younger and older individuals, but, when it affects younger individuals, it’s classified as premature CAD.

Premature CAD has many of the same symptoms and risks as CAD in older individuals. When signs or symptoms of CAD appear at any age, it’s important to take action.

This article will explain more about premature CAD and what steps you can take to reduce the risk of serious health effects, possibly through medication, surgery, or lifestyle changes.

“Premature CAD” means that a younger adult has CAD. Another term for premature CAD is “early onset CAD.”

Coronary artery disease (CAD)” means that there’s reduced blood flow in the heart because of a buildup of plaque in the arteries. CAD can be extremely dangerous because plaque buildup can narrow or completely close arteries, causing a heart attack or heart failure.

Language matters

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female.”

Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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You can experience CAD at any age, but “premature CAD” means that it may occur in males before they turn 45 years of age and females before they turn 55 years.

For many individuals, the first sign of coronary artery disease (CAD) is a heart attack.

If you have other symptoms and risk factors of CAD, a doctor can use a variety of tests to help diagnose coronary artery disease (CAD) including:

If you have risk factors for premature CAD, doctors may regularly check your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.

The symptoms of premature CAD are similar to the symptoms of CAD, and, as mentioned, the first sign many individuals experience is a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • feelings of weakness and being light-headed
  • breaking into a cold sweat
  • pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulders

Even if they don’t have a heart attack, many individuals who have premature CAD will experience chest pain or angina. These conditions may occur because the heart isn’t getting enough blood, which means that it’s also getting reduced levels of oxygen.

Every individual’s CAD story is different, but sex may affect the likelihood of experiencing certain symptoms. According to research, females are more likely to experience some of the more atypical symptoms of premature CAD, which may include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue
  • abdominal cramps
  • intestinal distress
  • anxiety

Premature CAD is caused by the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries. This plaque is made up in part of cholesterol deposits.

Over time, the plaque buildup leads to a narrowing or closing of the arteries, a process called “atherosclerosis.” Eventually, CAD can also cause the heart muscle to weaken, which may lead to heart failure.

Risk factors for premature CAD include:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • dyslipidemia (unhealthy lipid levels in the blood)
  • a family history of heart disease (especially early heart disease)
  • high levels of stress
  • smoking or opium use, or both
  • obesity

Your ethnicity, sex, and certain genetic conditions may also affect your likelihood of experiencing premature CAD.

There’s no cure for premature CAD, but you can do things to reduce their risk of developing CAD. Preventive measures may include:

  • exercising regularly
  • eating a heart healthy diet
  • quitting smoking, if you smoke
  • treating conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes

Medications can also be used to ease the effects of premature CAD on the heart and body. Some medications may be prescribed to lower blood pressure, widen or relax arteries, and decrease the chance of a heart attack, including:

Surgical procedures may be recommended to improve blood flow to and through the heart. These procedures may include coronary bypass surgery or angioplasty and stent placement.

In coronary bypass surgery, a blocked artery is bypassed using another artery or vein in the body.

In an angioplasty and stent placement procedure, an inflated balloon is used to push plaque toward the artery walls and widen the blood vessel. A stent is then placed to help keep the artery open.

Cardiac rehabilitation will likely be necessary if you experience a heart attack or require heart surgery. Rehabilitation may typically include an exercise plan, education on healthy heart practices, and counseling.

Around the world, CAD is the third leading cause of death. It’s responsible for 610,000 deaths each year, and 1 in 4 adults younger than 65 years die of CAD, according to 2023 research.

The mortality rate for coronary artery disease (CAD) has decreased over the last 3 decades, but the mortality rate for individuals under 55 years who have CAD has only barely decreased (0.1%) in the last 2 decades.

Additionally, there have been increasing rates of three known risk factors for premature CAD: hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.

More than four-fifths of individuals who have premature CAD also have a risk factor that can be adjusted. These risk factors may include:

Eliminating these risk factors may improve the outlook for people who have premature CAD. This may mean quitting smoking, taking medications to control a health condition, or increasing physical activity.

Premature CAD is a condition in which CAD occurs in males younger than 45 years and females younger than 55 years. It has many of the same symptoms and causes as regular CAD.

If you’re showing any symptoms of CAD, such as chest pain, it’s important to seek medical assistance regardless of your age. It’s also important to make lifestyle decisions that promote heart health at any age.