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Heart disease is not just a concern among the elderly

The recent deaths of celebrities Puneeth Rajkumar and Siddharth Shukla due to cardiac arrest have once again brought heart disease to the forefront of public attention. The key message derived from Indian cardiologists, as well as cardiologists across the globe is that heart disease is not just a disease of the elderly.

Heart data concept. Copyright: tribalium123 / 123RF Stock Photo, cardiovascular
Image credit: tribalium123 / 123RF

As reported by Health Issues India back in 2019, there has been a startling rise in heart disease cases over the last few decades. Over the last 25 years, India has seen a fifty percent rise in heart disease cases according to doctors at the Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre.

In 2016, heart disease accounted for 28.1 percent of all deaths in the country. It is India’s most common cause of death by a significant margin, yet, despite this grim reality, it is still viewed by many as a disease that is only common among the elderly. This is a misconception, and one that may be placing countless lives at risk.

Puneeth Rajkumar and Siddharth Shukla, both of whom were actors in their forties, and both of whom were relatively fit, died of sudden, and unexpected heart attacks. Such tragic events underline the fact that heart disease is not just occurring in the elderly, but still does not give a full indication of the scope of the issue. Indian doctors are now reporting increasing numbers of heart disease cases among those in their twenties and thirties.

According to IndiaToday, “the leading reasons for heart disease among young people in India are stress, smoking, a family history of cholesterol imbalances, undetected diabetes and obesity. There’s a shift in the profile of Indian cardiac patients; compared to twenty years ago, younger people are now developing heart disease.”

Changing lifestyles have played a considerable role in the rise of heart disease, as well as a host of other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) now plaguing the country. While just decades ago the majority of India’s population worked in manual labour, while eating a diet that was largely vegetarian — with a large amount of this locally grown — this has changed rapidly in recent years. As more and more Indians flock to the cities in hopes of finding more economically advantageous positions and jobs, lifestyles have changed, with a profound effect on health.

Sedentary lifestyles are becoming the norm, as is the consumption of a so-called “western style” diet, high in processed foods filled with sugar and fat. Office work is replacing manual labour, leaving many sitting at a desk for most of the day. These lifestyle factors are major risks for developing heart disease, though more must be done to raise awareness of this fact.

Research has found that the number of individuals living with hypertension across the globe has doubled in the last three decades. The world’s hypertensive population now exceeds 1.2 billion, with low- and middle-income countries — inclusive of India — accounting for over one billion, or 82 percent, of the world’s peoples living with hypertension. Hypertension is a major risk factor in developing heart disease, and rising cases of hypertension is an early warning sign that heart disease cases are likely to rise further in the years to come.

Mental health can also play a huge role in the development of heart disease. India is acutely aware that mental health is poorly handled by the country due to a severe lack of mental health care availability. According to Dr Ameya Udyavar, consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist in Mumbai’s Hinduja hospital

“As cardiologists we classify mental stress into two categories, acute and chronic. Acute stress refers to sudden shocks as a result of personal tragedy, accidents, deaths, etc., and that can lead to heart attacks and ballooning of the heart wherein the heart dilates, pumping goes down and the heart muscles become weak. Chronic stress involves stress in everyday life which builds up over a period of time. This includes anxiety over unemployment, exams, project deadlines, traffic jams, fights at home, etc. and can lead to hypertension, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

According to Delhi-based cardiologist Dr Rajiv Passey, “those with a family history of high cholesterol must start checking their sugar and cholesterol levels as early as in their twenties. Children of people who have had high cholesterol or diabetes at a young age start showing high levels even in their twenties.” He also suggests regular check-ups to evaluate blood sugar levels and health of the heart, thyroid, liver and kidney function.

Exercise and healthy diets are key suggestions that can be followed by all to reduce their risk of developing heart disease. However, many people are simply unaware of the risk, and so, in order to successfully combat heart disease, a preventative campaign must count education as one of its most important pillars.

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