Heart failure occurs when the heart is not pumping well enough to supply the body with blood. It is possible for a person in their 20s to develop heart failure.

Though heart failure is most common in older adults, it can occur in people in their 20s. Most scientific research on heart failure focuses on older adults.

While doctors generally consider the condition to be serious and not curable, a person can often manage heart failure with lifestyle changes and medications.

The following article examines heart failure in young adults in their 20s.

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Though uncommon, a person in their 20s can develop heart failure. According to a 2014 review that looked at 20 years of data in Sweden, about 1% of the total hospitalizations for heart failure occurred in people between the ages of 18–44 years.

In the United States, an estimated 6.2 million people live with heart failure. Of these, about 1.4 million are below the age of 60 years.

One 2020 study estimates that heart failure affects between .02–1 out of every 1,000 people. The researchers also noted that, while uncommon, the incident rate has increased in recent years for unknown reasons.

Heart failure in people between the ages of 20–29 years is not common. Still, it is possible a person in their 20s could develop heart failure.

An estimated .02–1 out of every 1,000 cases of heart failure each year occur in people in their 20s.

Signs and symptoms can vary based on the type of heart failure a person has. Factors such as the side of the heart it affects, the suddenness of onset, and severeness of the condition can all affect what symptoms a person may develop.

In mild cases, a person may first notice shortness of breath when exercising or engaging in physical activities. As the condition gets worse, they may develop shortness of breath when doing ordinary tasks or while lying down.

Other signs of heart failure can include:

Any person, regardless of age, should seek emergency medical help if they experience symptoms such as:

A person with risk factors for developing heart failure should talk with their doctor if they notice unusual symptoms. Risk factors for early onset heart failure in older adults are similar, and include:

Also, people of African American descent and biological males have a higher risk of early and more deadly cases of heart disease.

Learn more about why African Americans have higher risks of heart disease here.

Researchers suggest that doctors evaluate anyone who presents with unexplained shortness of breath and fatigue.

Researchers in a 2014 review noted that coronary artery disease and high blood pressure are more likely to be causes of heart failure for older adults. In younger people, common causes of heart failure include:

Some other common causes of heart failure among people of all ages include:

Preventing heart failure in a person’s 20s is similar to preventing it later in life. Some steps a person can take to help reduce their risk and prevent heart failure include:

  • taking steps to manage conditions that can cause it, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity
  • avoiding using tobacco, alcohol, or recreational drugs
  • managing stress
  • eating a heart-healthy diet full of vegetables, whole grain, fruits, and lean protein
  • exercising regularly

Learn more about foods that can help protect against heart failure here.

According to a 2020 study, being young does not necessarily improve the outlook of a person with heart failure. In fact, researchers noted that several of the study participants quickly developed end stage heart failure.

They also noted that younger people generally report a lower quality of life compared with older individuals. While they may not adhere to medications, they often take their health more seriously than older generations.

With treatment and lifestyle adjustments, a person may be able to live a typical life and help prevent complications from occurring.

Treatment can vary from person to person and often involves a combination of therapies and lifestyle changes. Some treatment strategies may include:

  • a diet low in sodium and high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats
  • medication
  • regular monitoring
  • regular physical activity
  • drinking fewer liquids
  • the use of devices to reduce sodium in the blood
  • a heart transplant
  • surgeries

A person should work with their doctor to determine the best treatment strategies for their situation.

A person in their 20s can develop heart failure. Several risk factors, including smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and others, can increase a person’s risk of developing heart failure.

When heart failure occurs at a young age, people often report a reduced quality of life. Treatment, including lifestyle changes, can lead to improvements in quality of life.