26 September 2010
By Aruna. V. Iyer, Asha Sridhar
This World Heart Day de–stress, detoxify and listen to your doctor. The focus this year is on all the working professionals who take stress head–on, for they are the first people in what is soon becoming the world’s coronary heart disease capital.
"My father was always prone to an attack simply because it was hereditary– but the fact that he smoked made him less capable of responding to the treatment he received. I made a resolution then, to quit smoking because I realised then that in a few years’ time I could be in my father’s position," he said.
It is experiences such as Vivek’s that shake up people into understanding the seriousness of heart diseases, touted to be the number one fatalistic non–communicable disease.
A study published in 2008 in The Lancet, a medical research journal, claims that 60 per cent of the world’s heart disease burden will be on India in the next two years. And doctors are still strong in their belief that prevention is the best way out in India, where sophisticated healthcare reaches only a handful.
Add to this the genetic preponderance of Indians to heart diseases, and we have a fatalistic disease that is threatening our generation next.
"Even if we ate less, we have a greater tendency to store cholesterol than people in other countries. Indians earlier suffered mainly only from rheumatic heart disease– but with development, we are fast becoming the world capital for coronary artery heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension among others," said Dr. I. Sathyamurthy, Senior Interventional Cardiologist and Director, Apollo Hospitals.
In developing countires where stress is becoming a way of life, health gets compromised first. So the emphasis on this year’s World Heart Day is on ‘Work Place Wellness’.
Younger Heart Patients
"Every two years my company brings in doctors who instruct us on maintaining the right posture at work and taking walks every twenty minutes. People may follow such advice for the first few days, but beyond that, the pressure to meet goals makes such suggestions quite impractical," said Ms. Uma Anand, an IT professional in the city.
Echoing this concern is Dr. Subramanyan, who feels that India becoming an IT hub has skewed the dietary and lifestyle habits of the youngsters who enter the field. Hasty bites that are mostly sweets and fats coupled with a sedentary work culture has lead to younger Indians succumbing to heart diseases.
Add to this other modifiable risk factors such as obesity, smoking, stress and diabetes, it is no surprise that Indians as young as 30 years are suffering from heart diseases, while their aged parents are still healthier than them, he added.
Report and Insure
Any minor symptom in a healthy individual should not be ignored. Often they are mistaken as signs of acidity or indigestion, but were originally a minor attack. Discomfort in the chest like pain, heaviness, breathing trouble, which may recede with rest, are some of the atypical forms of presentation. The faster they are reported, the better are the chances for survival in most cases.
Private healthcare can prove costly for many in the lower middle–class sections of the society where heart disease is predominant.
"Awareness about medical insurance should be upped amidst the public and the state government has risen to meet this demand in quite a satisfactory manner. But the reach is still limited, and people should be urged to take up medical insurance as frequently as life insurance," opined Dr. Subramanyan.
Run That Extra Mile
Getting back to the Lancet study, Indians today could be that population that was estimated to bear more than half of the world’s heart disease burden. If that is true, then what could be done to steer clear of ailments to the heart? It is getting back to the basics, that is going to help us beat this silent killer, said Dr. Subramanyan. Thirty minutes of physical exercise accompanied by a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and fibrous foods and a complete shunning of the bad fats is the formula to a heart that is happy.
And it is never too late to quit smoking. Fifteen years after dropping the habit, a chain smoker of the past will be as prone to heart diseases only as much as a person who has never smoked a single cigarette.
Myths No More
It is also important to dispel some of the myths about heart diseases, today. The third attack to the heart is not necessarily fatal, while there have been cases where the very first attack has proved to be fatal.
Heart diseases don’t always lead to death, and don’t always trigger other diseases. The human body doesn’t get dependent on medicines, contrary to popular belief. Therefore, heart patients should never stop medication without their doctor’s advice. Switching over to a new system of medicine, because you believe that it is less harmful is not a good practice, for this can have a very adverse effect on the body.
Another common belief is that women have a lesser risk of getting a heart attack because they are protected by the female hormone, Estrogen.
But post–menopause women are as prone, if not more prone to heart diseases. The protective effect of Estrogen even in pre–menopausal women can get nullified if they are diabetic or have the habit of smoking. It is also a proven fact that smoking causes more damage to women than men.
Busting the myth about an e–mail on Cough CPR, (which advocated coughing vigorously in case one gets a heart attack when alone), Dr. Subramanyan said, "Usually a person will not know that he or she is having a heart attack unless a doctor or a professional trained in life support recognises it.Whenever there is any kind of uneasiness, the first thing one should do is to call for help. Today everyone has a mobile phone in which they should store all the emergency numbers, so that they can call for help faster. "
Besides being a personal crisis, heart diseases are becoming a huge burden on the society and the national economy at large. "For India, resources have always been a problem, making universal healthcare a distant dream. With the incidence of heart diseases increasing in rural areas as well, prevention rather than treatment is the only solution to this lifestyle disease," said the doctor.
Pointing out the challenges that lie ahead, Dr. Sathyamurthy said, "India needs to meet its manpower shortage by including more number of nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists and trained faculties into heart care. The number of chest pain clinics, heart failure clinics and geriatric cardiology clinics have to be increased rapidly to face the rising incidence of heart diseases in the country."
Taking the first step towards a healthier lifestyle can be as simple as washing your own clothes, sweeping the floor or simply not using the remote control. Every organisation should take care of the health of its employees, which will directly affect the organisation’s health on the long run.
Uma may not be sitting in the right way and may not have the time for a quick walk every twenty minutes, but at least she and her friends have made one small change that could mean a lot: "We take turns in bringing a fruit for the others in our friends group every day, so that we are not among the many who we have seen gain weight drastically in office."