Indians are at a greater risk of developing cardioid-I cular disease than people of other ethnicities. The risk of sudden cardiac death is more amongst young Indians than the older ones. The younger population is at a greater risk than ever before. What causes these shocking unexpected deaths and how to prevent them is a major challenge to the health providers.
What causes a heart attack?
The heart is continuously pumping blood and never stops working till our demise. For this, it requires continuous fuel in terms of blood supply to its muscle. This is obtained from the three main coronary arteries present in the heart. They penetrate the cardiac muscle and provide uninterrupted blood and oxygen to the heart. Sudden blockage in these vessels may lead to heart attack or myocardial infarction. Many young individuals may die of the first episode of coronary thrombosis.
Why has this become common?
There are many reasons for this transformation. Younger individuals have a stressful life as they are finding ways to be stable in life. This continuous stress may increase their blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure. The continuous stress may make them vulnerable to get into the habit of excessive smoking or drinking alcohol or certain drugs. This may add to their body weight and make them more vulnerable.
Hence what are the major risk factors?
High cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, tobacco consumption and smoking, and lack of physical activity may lead to premature atherosclerosis. Continuous stress or sudden acute stress may lead to sudden death.
How are Indians different than the western population in this respect?
Genetically we are more predisposed to coronary artery disease. In fact, pre-mature heart attacks and deaths are common in certain families in India. We have smaller coronary arteries in terms of internal dimensions. Our diet is rich in carbohydrates and trans fatty acids. We have more abdominal obesity that makes us vulnerable to hypertension and diabetes and abnormal lipids in the blood. Somehow we have coronary artery disease 10 years earlier than the western population.
How do these risk factors affect our hearts?
Smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, and lack of physical activity increase the hardening of coronary arteries and makes them vulnerable to sudden thrombosis. We need to have a medical check-up, every year after the age of 20 years.
Which tests are required at a younger age to prevent heart attacks in individuals below 40 years?
A proper physical examination is required. Emphasis on blood pressure, check-ups for diabetes, and cholesterol values are extremely important. These tests are carried out annually and a proper record of these values and blood pressure is required. Normal weight for your height should be attained. Smoking should be avoided and alcohol consumption should be limited.
What is the importance of these annual tests?
Remember that high blood glucose, high cholesterol values, and hypertension may not give you any symptoms for a long time particularly in the young. These are known as silent killers as they do not cause symptoms. At times death or a massive heart attack can be the only symptom.
What about exercises?
Walking, cycling, swimming, and running are common exercises recommended. They not only help you to relax but also help you to reduce your risk factors. Having six packs or huge biceps does not protect your heart. Taking supplements in excess to reduce weight or build muscles may be dangerous. Before joining any exercise program, consultation with your family doctor is suggested. A brisk walk of 30 minutes daily is all that is required.
What are the symptoms of heart attack that may be overlooked?
Feeling restless or having unusual sweating. Feeling weak all of a sudden, unusual breathlessness or pain in the jaws and teeth, pain in the upper abdomen or in the back, unusual vomiting or gases or dizziness or blackouts, or a feeling of exhaustion may be the initial indication of a heart attack. In many, there may be no symptoms. The only symptom could be death. Death due to a heart attack is always sudden. But the factors leading to thrombosis of coronary arteries are not sudden. However, even in the young, the predisposing factors are generally not controlled vigorously. Identify hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes as early as possible. Take all measures to prevent them by having a proper lifestyle in terms of diet, exercise, and avoiding tobacco, and limiting alcohol intake. Remember the first and only symptom of a heart attack in the young could be death.