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What’s messing with young India’s heart?

It’s s not just heartbreak! Presenting tips, tricks and ideas to keep your ticker ‘heartbreakable’ for longer

brunch Updated: Sep 24, 2016 20:15 IST
Kavita Devgan
Nearly 1/6th of all Indian patients of cardiovascular diseases are under 40 years of age
Nearly 1/6th of all Indian patients of cardiovascular diseases are under 40 years of age (Getty Images/Ikon Images)

For many young people, the only disorders associated with the heart are heart-sickness and heartbreak. It’s only natural: at an age when even 50 seems old (half a century! OMG!), who on earth is going to be worrying about the physical state of their heart?

Ideally, that is how it should be for people too new on this earth to have worn-out bits of anatomy. But unfortunately, that is not how it is.

According to Dr Kenneth Thorpe, chairman, The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, “Statistics suggest that there has been a downward escalation of heart disease in India; it has been increasing among the youth at a rate of 24.8 per cent in the past decade.”

That means, says Sundeep Mishra, professor of cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, nearly 1/6th of all Indian patients of cardiovascular diseases are under 40 years of age (a rate much higher than any other ethnic group), and nearly 1/4th of all heart attacks in India occur at less than 40 years of age.

These troubling stats are the result of the usual suspects: unhealthy lifestyle, poor dietary habits, low awareness of risk factors and inefficient surveillance mechanisms, says Dr Thorpe.

Here are the seven most common risk factors of heart disease that young India needs to know.

The butt, of course!

Smoking is one of the strongest risk factors of heart diseases. “It damages the inner lining of the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle and increases the risk of clot formation which leads to heart attacks,” says Dr Santosh Kumar Dora, consultant, cardiology and electrophysiology, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai.

Smokers have twice the risk of heart attacks than non-smokers, and if a stubborn smoker happens to be a woman of child-bearing age who takes birth control pills, she had better be consistent with her health check-ups.

No sugar, no cry

According to Dr Sundeep Mishra, hypertension and diabetes or insulin resistance are major risk factors for heart disease. “Uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure, already widely prevalent among the young, are silent killers and are causing an explosion in heart disease too,” says Dr Mishra.

Prevent these numbers from rising, he advises, or if you suffer from them already, then take the figures seriously. If you’re aged 20 or above, have a cholesterol investigation conducted at least once every five years. Total cholesterol of more than 200 mg/dl requires further investigations with a lipid profile.

The cholesterol calculation

While total cholesterol numbers are important, the problem among Indians is particularly unique. “A very prevalent risk factor among Indians is the combination of high triglyceride counts and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL),” says Dr Mishra.

Weight no more

It is very important to stay close to your optimal weight to keep your heart healthy. That can only happen if you eat right and exercise enough. “Youngsters today are less inclined to exercise, and that can be dangerous. Losing weight if you are overweight helps lower LDL cholesterol,” says Dr Dora.

Food, inglorious food!

Late-night eating and junk food leads to obesity, which increases the risk of hypertension and heart attacks. “Not eating enough fruits and vegetables also raises the risk for heart disease, since antioxidants that fight disease-causing free radicals in the body are missing,” points out Dr Dora.

The latest nutrition research suggests that eating more than five portions of vegetables and fruits as part of your daily diet could have significant positive effects on the cardiac health of the person.

Pot belly problems

Beer bellies are common among young people who have no idea that truncal (abdominal) obesity is a huge risk factor for heart disease. Low physical activity, low consumption of fruits and vegetables, and binge drinking are the main culprits. “In fact, the intake of large quantities of alcohol can lead to cardiomyopathy, a condition leading to sudden heart failure,” says Dr Dora. So measure your waist. Anything greater than 80 cm (32 inches) for women and 94 cm (37 inches) for men means increased risk. Waist measurements of more than 88 cm (35 inches) for women and 102 cm (40 inches) for men scream for action ASAP.

The stress mess

A decent work-life balance and stress management are important for a healthy heart, but the model of work culture India follows leads to frustration and negativity. These emotions pump up the secretion of epinephrine or nonepinephrine in the body and can precipitate vulnerable plaques and massive heart attacks.

“Those who internalise the stress are in greater danger from heart diseases,” says Dr Dora.

A University College, London, study showed a strong link between work-related stress and heart disease, with people who reported stress at work at a 68 per cent greater risk of coronary heart disease compared to those with low-stress jobs.

The only way to avoid heart problems at a young age is to begin preventing them while you’re still young. “It’s essential to make the necessary shift in social behaviour and begin instilling ‘healthy living’ as a norm,” says Dr Thorpe.

This means heart health education should reach the classrooms, and for those who have left their classrooms behind, it must be available at work.

Access to medication and the latest healthcare technology is very important. “New innovations in heart care and some new drugs are showing very impressive results and can help improve the quality of life and longevity of those suffering from heart disease,” says Dr Mishra. “This is especially important if one gets it very young.”

Are you exercising too much?

Too much of anything is bad and the same goes for workouts. Excessive exercise can have negative impact on a person’s health (Getty Images)

Excessive exercise, especially if you’re unaccustomed to it and do it bootcamp style in a very short span of time, can be dangerous for the heart. For instance, weight lifting increases the blood pressure significantly, which means those who already have high blood pressure should avoid it.

Those who are genetically prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have a very high risk of sudden cardiac arrest during physical exertion. Their siblings must also be periodically examined via electrocardiograms and echocardiograms for the same condition as it runs in the family.

Chanellopathies are another genetic disease that alters the electrical activity of heart muscles, which can cause serious arrhythmias (heartbeat irregularity).

So before you begin any exercise routine, do a treadmill test or a CT coronary angiogram, and ideally, repeat a full heart check up every two to three years.

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From HT Brunch, September 25, 2016

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