How healthy is your heart?

Anuradha Varma, TNN, Mar 16, 2011

Teen obesity, lack of exercise and unhealthy lifestyles are pushing us towards heart diseases earlier than ever before. It’s no longer uncommon to hear of someone in their 30s or 40s succumb to a heart attack as they push themselves ahead on the corporate ladder.
About 35 to 50 per cent of cases of heart disease in India affect people below the age of 50. In the West, the average age is 55. Cardiologist K K Sethi, Delhi Heart and Lung Institute, even has mothers bringing their 14-year-old children with complaints of high blood pressure. He says, “Most children today get no exercise and spend their time in front of the television, eating potato chips as they stay up the night to study. They also have big tummies. By the time they touch 40, it all accumulates in the form of a heart attack.”

Heart ailments are also no longer a rich man’s disease. Consumerism and urbanisation have ensured that even villages have access to unhealthy junk food like potato chips. Says Dr Sethi, “I get rickshaw-pullers who have suffered heart attacks. They eat meals cooked in unhealthy oil on the roadside.”

The number one reason for a heart attack, however, remains smoking. And, among women, smoking and diabetes. According to a study in Finland, published in Tobacco Control, individuals under the age of 40, who smoke tobacco products, have a five times higher chance of having a heart attack than non-smokers. Smoking is the single most important cause of heart attacks in younger patients and among patients below the age of 40 who had heart attacks, 80 per cent were smokers. And smoking was the only risk factor identified in over half of these young victims of heart attack.

“Avoid eating jalebis and kachodi, which are cooked in vanaspati oil. It’s a killer,” says Dr Sethi. “The more it’s reheated, it gets oxidised and creates transfats in the body,” he adds.

Dr Shubha Sabharwal, nutritionist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, suggests, “Restrict eating out to once a week and if you’re at a business meeting, opt for salads, which will also detoxify the body. Introduce fibres in your diet through bran and wheat flour. Cut down on red meat and egg yolks that are high in cholesterol. Eat foods that protect your heart. Instead of refined oil, switch to mustard or olive oil.”

Familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) is a lesser known genetic disorder that can affect people with otherwise healthy lifestyles. Heart UK advises that children of people with the condition should be tested by the time they are 10. Laparoscopic surgeon V K Nigam, Apollo Clinic, states, “Testing for heart disease for an otherwise healthy individual should begin at the age of 30. FH is a genetic disorder characterised by high cholesterol levels, especially very high levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein) or bad cholesterol, leading to early cardiovascular disease. Even 10-yearolds can be diagnosed with FH and early detection is the key.” Explains cardiologist Dr Kartikeya Bhargava, Medanta Heart Institute, “Hearing or seeing that a 24-year-old-boy suffered a heart attack is becoming more common. FH may be responsible in few cases. However, it is the lifestyle related factors that are responsible for the worsening scenario.”

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He adds, “Coronary artery disease generally affects Indians a decade earlier compared to the Western population. Also, the disease in Indians is more severe compared to those in the West, probably due to genetic predisposition. This genetic tendency is made worse with the increasingly deteriorating lifestyle of urban young adults. Some estimates indicate that heart disease is the single largest killer surpassing diabetes, tuberculosis and cancer in a city like Delhi. The rising incidence of heart attacks among the youth is due to a combination of risk factors that include smoking or tobacco use, psychological stress, sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise. Family history of heart disease in parents or siblings compounds this risk.”

How can one recognise an impending heart attack? According to Dr Ashok Seth, cardiologist, Fortis Escorts Hospitals, about 60 per cent of patients complain of a typical severe chest pain, accompanied by pain in the left arm, nausea, perspiration. About 15-20 per cent experience indigestion or pain in the back, minus any sweating. A jaw pain is more suspect if it’s also accompanied by discomfort in the throat. A ‘silent heart attack’ is more common with complaints of ‘gas’ or indigestion. Advises Dr Seth, “If the indigestion is not relieved by antacids and persists for over an hour, get an ECG done. We get patients who have taken antacids all night long to get rid of indigestion and by morning, they suffer a heart attack.”

Take control of your life, the earlier the better!
Watch your heart
– A ‘silent heart attack’ is more common with complaints of ‘gas’ or indigestion.
– If the indigestion is not relieved by antacids and persists for over an hour, get an ECG done.
Making healthy choices
– Restrict eating out to once a week.
– If you’re at a business meeting, opt for salads, with non-fatty dressings.
– Introduce fibres in your diet through bran and wheat flour.
– Snack on flax seeds and walnuts, which are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.
– Cut down on red meat and egg yolks that are high in cholesterol.


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