Today it has become common to hear about people in their 40s or even their 30s getting heart attacks. According to a recent report by the Indian Medical Association, at least 10 per cent of people over the age of 30 in urban areas and 5 per cent in rural areas have blocked arteries. “In India, about 140 in every one lakh people die of a heart attack,” says Dr Viveka Kumar, director cath lab director at Max Heart and Vascular Institute, Saket, New Delhi. “The main reason for this is the fact that Indians have smaller calibrated arteries that makes us three times more vulnerable to heart attacks compared to other ethnicities.”
Dr Kumar blames it on a diet that is rich in fried foods and the fact that most Indians don’t like to exercise. “Also, many youngsters can’t handle stress in a healthy manner and resort to smoking or alcohol to beat stress without realising what a killer combination this could be,” says Dr Somalaram Venkatesh, interventional cardiologist at Fortis Hospital, Bangalore.
Stress & the Sexes
Conventionally, all these years, men have been considered more vulnerable to heart attacks than women. Women apparently fare much better than men when it comes to handling stress. However, the situation is changing. Today, studies indicate that women are at a greater risk of suffering cardiac attacks. “When they are young, women get hormonal protection from heart attacks. However, the protective effect of oestrogen is lost within five years of menopause and then they are more vulnerable to heart attacks. Another problem with women is that most of them don’t get the classic symptoms of a heart attack felt by men. “Also, a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise, bad diet, smoking and drinking are major factors,” reveals Dr Naveen Bhamri, senior consultant at the Department of Cardiology at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi.
Experts say most heart attacks can be prevented through early detection. Unfortunately, the concept of regular health check-ups doesn’t exist in India. “Ideally, every person above the age of 30 must undergo a routine examination and also imaging of the heart. If there is any thickening of the arteries, the patient can be informed so preventive measures are taken at the right time. A treadmill test might not be enough,” suggests Dr Viveka Kumar.
The beat goes on
While a few heart attacks can prove fatal, there is a realistic chance of the patient surviving the attack, provided timely medical help is provided. “The most important thing to keep in mind is to understand the symptoms and not dismiss them without meeting a doctor,” says Dr Venkatesh. “Even if you have suffered an attack, it is possible to lead a normal life provided you manage your lifestyle along with regular exercise, diet control as well as regular check-ups,” he adds.
The mantra for a healthy heart is simple – eat right, exercise and be happy. And as our case studies reveal, a heart attack need not be the end of the world. Read on:
What the doctor ordered
Ten things you must do in order to have a healthy heart
1. There’s nothing better than a dose of oxygen to make your heart happy – so go for brisk walks (at least 30 minutes).
2. Keep your stress levels down with yoga, meditation or a hobby that can help you relax.
3. Smoking, both active and passive, can kill your heart. Avoid it.
4. Alcohol doesn’t go well with your heart’s health, so drink within limits.
5. Keep a watch on your weight – especially after you cross 30.
6. Be kind to yourself and go for regular check-ups. Get your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol checked.
7. Junk the junk food and adopt complex carbs, veggies,fruits and healthy oils.
8. If you have a family history of heart attacks, make sure to be extra careful.
9. For women: Breast cancer, cervical cancer and heart attacks in women are on the rise so keep your health in mind
10. Last, but not the least, live life to the fullest and with a positive attitude.
“I’m fit to run a half-marathon now”
Arunava Chakraborty, 42, works with a US multinational in Mumbai. He suffered a heart attack when he was just 34
Despite the fact that I had a family history of heart problems – both my mother as well as my uncle suffered from cardiac conditions – I never thought of going in for any kind of medical check-ups. I work with a multi-national company in Mumbai and my work requires me to be out in the field. Therefore, I didn’t quite maintain regular eating hours. Also, before I suffered the attack, I used to smoke as many as 40 cigarettes a day.
There were times when I would feel dizzy or go blank while driving but I blamed these on lack of sleep and never thought about visiting a doctor. One day I had to drive down to Nagpur on work. There was a slight pain in my chest but I assumed it was from acidity and ignored it. On the way, the pain increased so I stopped at a chemist and took an antacid tablet. By the time I reached Nagpur, the pain had increased. I finally decided to see a doctor. As soon as I entered the hospital, I fainted. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the ICU and was informed that I had suffered a heart attack. The doctors said I had reached the hospital in the nick of time. A few minutes late and they wouldn’t have been able to save me. After undergoing immediate angioplasty I was informed that some of my heart muscles had been damaged. I spent the fortnight in the hospital and the doctor told me I’d have to drastically change my lifestyle if I wanted to avoid another attack. I quit smoking and began paying attention to my health. I could see the benefits within a fortnight. Before the attack, I weighed 93 kgs, but within a few days itself I lost about 20 kgs.
It has been eight years since my attack, but not a day has passed when I have either missed my medicine or my 45-minute brisk walk twice a day. My morning starts with a bowl of sprouts or oats and I take smaller meals. I switched from rice to roti and replaced tea with green tea. After consulting my doctor, I decided to go for stenting in April this year to remove a blockage. I have never felt as energetic and confident and I am planning to soon run a half-marathon.
Dr Somalaram Venkatesh of Fortis Hospital treated Arunava when he suffered a heart attack
Arunava underwent angioplasty for blocked arteries in 2005. Despite a family history of heart attacks, he never got check-ups done. Moreover, he was a chain smoker and led a sedentary lifestyle and maintained irregular eating habits. This resulted in blocking the arteries. On the day of his attack, he ignored chest pain, a typical symptom of cardiac problems, and drove more than 200 kilometres to Nagpur. His heart muscles got damaged and we had to pump his heart several times before going for angioplasty in order to save him.
He was asked to make drastic lifestyle changes and quit smoking. In the last eight years, he has never missed his check-ups or medication. In April this year, he opted for stenting as one artery was blocked. After stenting he is back to leading a healthy life.
Pankaj Handa – A 33-year-oldmarketing executive in Delhi. He suffered a minor heart attack about one-and-a half years ago
Being the marketing head for a region, I had to travel for at least 15-20 days a month. My eating habits had gone haywire and I was under a lot of stress to meet targets. Thankfully, I had no family history of heart ailments and am a teetotaller. My blood pressure used to be on the higher side since the age of 30 but I never felt the need to consult a doctor for it.
Having eaten fried food for a fortnight during an office trip to Nagpur, I was looking forward to returning back to Delhi. Around two in the afternoon, I began getting chest pain that I attributed to all the spicy food I had been eating. After returning to Delhi at night, around 3 am, the pain became unbearable and I decided to get a check-up done. Fortunately, one of my neighbours is a physician. He did my ECG and advised me to meet a cardiologist urgently.
I met Dr Naveen Bhamri the next morning who told me there was a 70 per cent blockage in my arteries. I spent four days in the ICU and the blockage was cleared with medication. But I was asked to slash my stress, which had induced the attack. Now I make sure to eat healthy. I get check-ups done every two months and go for walks twice a day. I enjoy listening to music also. After managing my stress levels, I am able to lead a normal, healthy life.
Dr Naveen Bhamri of Max Hospital treated Pankaj when he suffered a minor attack
When Pankaj came to me and I did the stress echo, I realised that he had already suffered a minor attack owing to artery blockages. However, we were able to remove those blockages through thrombosuction without putting in stents. I advised Pankaj to start with some kind of aerobic exercise for at least 20-25 minutes every day, to improve his eating habits and also to ensure that his cholesterol levels were kept in control. Fortunately, Pankaj has brought relevant modifications into his lifestyle and is enjoying a carefree, healthy life today.
From HT Brunch, June 30
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