In a recent piece, KEEPING UP WITH THE BEAT - 101 FOR THE INDIAN HEART, we explored how India's proverbial heart is facing a not-so-proverbial issue. We also addressed how matters of the heart affects us Indians in our most productive middle years and how Asians are predisposed to weaker hearts than our European counterparts.
Improved healthcare and advances in treatment options have helped people overcome these conditions. Though the numbers still continue to rise; earning our country the reputation of being the coronary capital of the world.
So, in order to better understand how and why this condition is impacting us, we reached out to reknowned Intervention Cardiologist Dr. Shirish Hiremath. Here's what you need know about your heart and how you can take better care of it.
What is the state of heart disease in India and what is your take on the quick progression of the condition over the last few years?
For the last couple of decades, the number of cardiac events is continuously growing. Treatment options are getting better and better. Despite improved treatment, the numbers still remain large. Numbers are increasing, this is the sad reality. The stress of life contributes immensely to this sharp increase in numbers of cardiac events. Food habits are also changing. Smoking, less exercise, being overweight - all these factors continue to build up. It is one of the effects of the growth of overall income. These are different types of pressures which become a part of their lifestyle, which are ultimately hurting people.
What are the factors that lead up to someone getting a cardiac event? Do you feel it has more to do with lifestyle or genetic inheritance of the condition? Are these Preventable?
A stressful lifestyle in the corporate environment, bad food choices, lack of exercise, excessive consumption of alcohol and smoking are all contributing factors that could lead up to someone having a cardiac event. If you have a family history of cardiac issues, you also tend to be more susceptible to heart conditions.
I would see what applies to more number of cases to decide which is a bigger contributing factor. Corporate lifestyle wherein the work pressure is very high is one that stands out.
If your parents have a heart problem, the probability of you picking it up is very high. If your parents have it, you being prone to it cannot change. We call these non-modifiable factors. All the other things like smoking, overweight etc can be modified with a correct approach to life.
If you develop the condition, you are likely to pass it on to your progeny as well. You can't modify your family history but you can prevent it from becoming a family history. You have an option to alter your food and lifestyle choices and have a robust heart in your lifetime. We see more instances of people having cardiac events due to modifiable factors than non-modifiable, and this can be changed.
What is the cause of a cardiac event? Is the damage caused to the heart during a cardiac event reversible?
People who have more of the factors that lead up to cardiac events, invariably have cholesterol depositions which are increasing. Once you get to a threshold level, or if you are susceptible to cardiac events, you face problems.
When we talk of heart attacks, we are referring to the coronary arteries which have blockages. The root cause is that there are blockages in arteries because of cholesterol, and this blockage along with formation of clots in turn causes heart attacks. Heart attack means at that time, the heart muscles are damaged. The muscle which should be contracting, is unable to do so, because it is weak.
The extent of heart damage could change from event to event, person to person depending on the treatment you get. If you get quick and effective treatment very early in the heart attack, then damage can be contained. That is if you do everything very early after the episode of heart attack, the heart function and pumping action can remain effective. However, if for whatever reason the person does not get early treatment - because they don't realize the necessity or do not have access to it - they may sustain permanent heart damage. So, one must learn to quickly save the heart muscles. So, in the early hours, it is reversible. If we open a blocked artery quickly, the damage is reversible.
What is the best way for someone to deal with a heart attack?
The treatment of heart attack has improved so much that we can prevent damage to the heart muscle which stops irreversible damage and enables a person to recover. Then you can be reasonably certain that you will do well in the following years provided you take good care. A good treatment of heart attack can set you back on a novel path of life and you could continue to enjoy life like anybody else. This will include switching the targets. For a regular person the threshold for cholesterol could be 200, but for someone who has already had a cardiac arrest it would be 150. This way we keep changing the target to ensure there are no further problems for the person.
Most often people are hit by a cardiac event completely off guard. Are there signs and symptoms that present themselves that can help people pre-empt an event and be more prepared?
I would say that walk and heart always have a strong connection. If during a walk, you experience strain, shoulder pain or any such discomfort, you should be warned that your heart is not able to keep up with the requirements of this basic aerobic task. The demand is not being met with the supply. If there are blockages, the demand of a high-intensity walk will not be met by your heart. Another typical sign of a possible heart condition, is if you experience a cold sensation in your chest while walking.
Moreover, people who have a family history of heart disease should get regular tests. The tests can illustrate whether you have some blockages, so you can go for further evaluation.
Why do you think the number of cardiac events across the country is so alarming and on the rise, despite increased awareness on the subject?
Many times, there is a tendency towards denial as to why you get a heart attack. People somehow believe that "it will not happen to them" and take things for granted. They stop being pro-active in managing their heart health. People will be more pro-active and responsible when it comes to taking care of their heart if they knew that their food and lifestyle choices are a big contributing factor to their likelihood of developing a heart condition.
The human heart, though continuously active without your knowledge, requires pro-active measures on your part to ensure that you are constantly fit. A healthy heart gives you the power to face any challenges without getting thwarted. Now, with giant steps in innovation in the field of heart healthcare, taking care of your heart health is much easier than it was a few decades ago. Now is as good a time as any to start taking steps towards making changes to your lifestyle to live a fuller life!
Disclaimer: This publication / editorial / article is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any Products. Please consult your doctor/ healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.