Prediabetes in young adults may raise heart attack risk

By American Heart Association News

13UG13th/iStock via Getty Images
(13UG13th/iStock via Getty Images)

Young adults diagnosed with prediabetes may be more likely to be hospitalized for heart attacks than their peers with normal blood sugar levels, according to preliminary new research.

Prediabetes occurs when a person's blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. It is defined as having fasting blood sugar levels between 100 and 125 mg/dL. About 88 million U.S. adults have prediabetes, 29 million of whom are under 45 years old.

"Prediabetes, if left untreated, can significantly impact health and can progress to Type 2 diabetes, which is known to increase a person's risk for cardiovascular disease," researcher Dr. Akhil Jain said in a news release. He is a resident physician at Mercy Catholic Medical Center in Darby, Pennsylvania.

"With heart attacks happening increasingly in young adults, our study was focused on defining the risk factors pertinent to this young population, so that future scientific guidelines and health policies may be better able to address cardiovascular disease risks in relation to prediabetes," he said.

Using the National Inpatient Sample – the largest publicly available database of hospital records in the nation – researchers analyzed data from 7.8 million hospitalizations for young adults in 2018. All patients were between the ages of 18 and 44.

Young adults diagnosed with prediabetes had a 1.7 times higher chance of being hospitalized for a heart attack than those whose blood sugar levels were within the normal range. They also were more likely to have high cholesterol and obesity. Among those with prediabetes, 68.1% had high cholesterol compared to 47.3% of those without. Of those with prediabetes, 48.9% had obesity compared to 25.7% of those who did not have prediabetes.

However, they did not have a higher incidence of other cardiovascular events, such as cardiac arrest or stroke.

Adults with prediabetes who were hospitalized for heart attack were more likely to be Black, Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander men.

The findings, presented Saturday at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions, are considered preliminary until a full paper is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

If nothing is done to lower or stop blood glucose levels from climbing, prediabetes can progress to Type 2 diabetes. However, lifestyle changes – such as losing weight and increasing physical activity levels – have been shown to help reverse the condition. Many of the steps to reverse prediabetes are the same ones that help prevent heart disease.

Jain said more research is needed to understand the link between prediabetes and heart disease in young adults.

"Our study should be considered as a foundation for future research to clearly establish heart disease burden in young adults with prediabetes, given the prevalence of prediabetes of nearly one-third of adults in the U.S.," Jain said. "It is essential to raise awareness among young adults about the importance of routine health checkups, including screening for prediabetes and to take steps to prevent or delay the development of Type 2 diabetes and associated cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack."

Editor's note: This story was corrected on May 17. The data looked at 7.8 million hospitalizations for young adults, not heart attack-related hospitalizations.

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