It is an alarming fact that India is facing a dangerous epidemic of heart diseases on the rise in the last couple of decades. Cardiovascular diseases account for upto 35% of health related deaths in India. The major heart illnesses seen among Indians currently are coronary artery disease, heart failure, hypertension (mostly uncontrolled and untreated) and diabetic heart disease. The current Indian scenario is more disturbing in that an increasing number of these patients are in the younger productive age groups between 30 to 50 years, which is likely to have major implications on the socioeconomic and developments aspects of the society.
The major risk factors responsible for heart disease are advanced age, tobacco consumption, diabetes mellitus, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, high cholesterol levels and stress. Tobacco consumption, especially smoking, is one of the most important culprit in causing heart diseases. Even occasional smokers and passive smokers have an increased risk of developing heart disease. Uncontrolled or long standing diabetes promotes increased cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels of the heart similar to smoking and can lead to heart attacks. The last two decades of globalization has brought with it the dangers of junk food culture, physical inactivity, physical and mental stress that have escalated the prevalence of cardiac illnesses in all age groups.
Patients with heart disease can have varying symptoms like chest pain (angina) or chest tightness, breathing difficulty, palpitations (fast heart beating), giddiness, easy fatiguability as early symptoms. Some patients with diabetes or older age may present for the first time with heart attack, without any of these early warning symptoms or may also have “silent” heart attacks. It is a common misconception among us that chest pain in heart disease is always in the left side of chest. But we should realize that the angina pain can be anywhere in the chest- left, right, middle or even back; it can also be noted only as left or right arm pain, jaw pain, throat pain or even ulcer pain. A high degree of suscipion and recognition of the pain is important in early detection of heart attack.
Early recognition of above symptoms and immediate consultation with a cardiologist is very important for appropriate treatment plan. A proper diagnosis is possible in majority of the patient with the help of ECG, Echocardiogram, Chest Xray, Treadmill testing and blood testing for cholesterol levels. Selected patients with a high degree of suspicion of coronary artery disease will need coronary angiogram to confirm the diagnosis, assess the extent and severity of blocks in the blood vessels and to plan angioplasty or surgery.
As seen earlier, the major risk factors responsible for heart disease are smoking, diabetes mellitus, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, high cholesterol levels and stress. Taking the simple steps like quitting smoking, keeping diabetes under good control, taking regular healthy food containing vegetables, avoiding oily foods, fried items and junk food, and destressing by way of meditation, yoga and good music goes a long way in preventing heart ailments. For smokers who plan to quit, help is available in the form of Nicotine Replacement Therapy and Hypnotherapy, but the most important factor is the individual’s willpower and resolution to quit. Regular exercise in any form (walking, jogging, swimming, skipping, dancing etc) for 30- 40 minutes a day, for atleast 3-5 days a week, is advised to keep our heart and mind healthy .
It is a heartening fact that awareness about heart diseases is increasing in India, thanks to the role of social media like facebook and twitter. We see these days many medical personnel taking social media route to spread awareness about prevention of heart disease.