A 2004 study had estimated 60 per cent Indians would be at risk of heart diseases by 2010. On Friday, medical journal The Lancet took it a step further saying it would hit them younger and harder.
“The crux of the study is that Indians get heart disease at a much earlier age than the rest of the world and many more die of it here because their illness will be more severe and they don’t get treatment in time,” said Dr Srinath K. Reddy, one of the authors of The Lancet study and president of the Public Health Foundation of India.
“Not only more severe diseases, including heart attacks and unstable angina, were reported at a younger age in India but people here were also more likely to die within 30 days of a heart attack,” says Dr Reddy.
The study led by Denis Xavier of St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore was to find out why Indians are at a greater risk — 60 per cent compared to 40 per cent in developed countries — after the British Medical Journal research four years ago.
For The Lancet study, data was collected on nearly 21,000 coronary patients admitted in 89 hospitals across 50 cities in the country. Although the risk factors — tobacco use, high levels of lipids in the blood due to diets rich in saturated fat and hypertension — are the same for Indians as others, heart diseases and deaths are more because people received medical attention late.
On an average it takes 5 hours for patients to reach a hospital in India, twice as long as in developed countries. Traffic jams, lack of awareness about symptoms, long distances and consultation with family physicians contribute to the delay, the report said. Deaths were highest among the poor, who cannot get to hospital quickly or afford treatment.
The disease burden can be reduced by quicker access to treatment and modifying lifestyle — like quitting tobacco use, exercising and eating healthy.
“This registry is a major milestone, since it provides the first comprehensive view of the epidemic of acute coronary syndrome in India and helps identify opportunities for improvement in care,” notes cardiologist Kim Eagle in a commentary, also published in The Lancet.
Ischaemic heart disease — medicalese for heart attacks and coronary artery disease — is the number one killer in the world, accounting for about 8 million deaths each year.