Young people tend to feel invincible to danger, but they're not, especially when it comes to their heart health. One of the most common misconceptions about heart health is that older people are the only ones who need to worry.

Patients who suffer from the most severe and deadly type of heart attack, STEMI, are getting younger and more obese, according to Dr. Samir Kapadia, professor of medicine and section head for interventional cardiology at Cleveland Clinic.

"On the whole, the medical community has done an outstanding job of improving treatments for heart disease, but this study shows that we have to do better on the prevention side," said Kapadia in a statement. "When people come for routine checkups, it is critical to stress the importance of reducing risk factors through weight reduction, eating a healthy diet, and being physically active." He presented his research at the American College of Cardiology's 65th Annual Scientific Session.

Kapadia and his colleagues gathered all the records of over 3,900 STEMI patients who sought treatment from the Cleveland Clinic between 1995 and 2014. Researchers examined each participant for risk factors and underlying health conditions at the start of the study and every five years afterwards. The research team focused on how patients can reduce their risk by making lifestyle changes, such as exercising more, quitting smoking, and adopting a heart-healthy diet.

They found that the average age of STEMI patients dropped from 64 to 60 between the first five years of the study and last five years. Those with three or more major risk factors for STEMI also grew from 65 to 85 percent. They also saw that the prevalence of obesity increased from 31 to 40 percent, diabetes went up from 24 to 31 percent, high blood pressure rose from 55 to 77 percent, and rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease jumped from 5 to 12 percent.

A STEMI heart attack happens when blood flow through one of the heart’s main arteries stops for a prolonged period of time. Although immediate medical attention can increase a victim’s chance of survival, this type of heart attack carries a very high risk for death.

"Prevention must be kept in the forefront of primary care," Kapadia said. "Cardiac health is not just dependent on the cardiologist. The primary care physicians and the patient need to take ownership of this problem."

The researchers were especially surprised to find that smoking rates among this group actually increased from 28 to 46 percent. This is obviously in direct contrast to national trends which have shown a significant reduction in smoking rates.

"Don't wait until you have a diagnosed heart problem to start taking care of yourself and paying attention to your lifestyle and dietary choices. You should be working hard to avoid developing heart disease in the first place," Kapadia added.

Source: Kapadia S, et al. An Alarming Trend: Change in Risk Profile of Patients with ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction over the Last Two Decades. American College of Cardiology's 65th Annual Scientific Session . 2016.