“I am a cardiothoracic surgeon,” says Dr. Siva Muthukumar of Apollo Hospitals on OMR in Chennai, “but my special interest is preventive cardiology. If a heart attack happens, we can treat it, but prevention is always better than cure,” he explains. Even more so among young adults, he adds.
Several recent studies and surveys, and experiences of cardiologists from across the country, suggest that the incidence of heart disease among young adults is increasing in India. The frequency of coronary heart disease in young Indians is 15-18% higher than in any other population group globally, and heart attacks in young Indians are 3-4 times higher than in the West, doctors have found, making India the heart-disease capital of the world.
Further, Dr. Siva Muthukumar points out that when a heart attack happens in the young, it is a lot more sudden and fatal.
“Heart attacks in younger people are more dangerous because there is a sudden occlusion - or a ‘block’ as we commonly call it - of blood supply. In aged people, it happens over a period of time, so the symptoms start showing before the occlusion is 100%, the heart gets used to less blood supply over a period of time. But in younger people, it is a sudden shock. That’s why we are also now hearing of a lot more cases of youngsters dying of a heart attack even before they could be brought to a hospital,” the doctor says.
In most cases of youngsters suffering from a sudden heart attack, diet and social habits play a major role, the doctor says, based on his experience. Hectic work environments and stressed personal lives are also contributing factors to the increasing incidence of heart diseases among the young.
So, as a young adult, what should you be worried about? You should be wary of anything which increases your blood pressure and leads to more fat deposits in the body. But to be more specific, here is “Dr. SMK’s S7” - the seven risk factors you must avoid to have a healthy heart.
Dr. Siva Muthukumar, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Apollo Hospitals
Stress - According to the doctor, stress is the most important factor leading to heart attacks among urban youngsters. “Indians are probably among the most stressed people in the world. Both our jobs and personal lives are very stressed,” he says. Stress results in high blood pressure and a flooding of several hormones in our body. If this happens once in a while, it is fine. But when the stress is regular, the impact on the heart can be worrying, he says.
Smoking - All of us know that smoking is bad for our health and that it causes cancer, but we often don’t understand exactly how it affects our heart. The nicotine in cigarettes is the main culprit, when it comes to the heart. It reduces the flow of oxygen to the heart, raises our blood pressure and heart rate, and harms the insides of our blood vessels in the heart - which is called ‘atherosclerosis’.
Salt - Excessive salt intake leads to high blood pressure, thus it is seen as a risk factor for heart failure. The reason doctors are now increasingly talking about our salt intake is due to the growing fast-food culture. “When you step out for dinner, avoid dishes which have high salt content. Avoid meat which is marinated with a lot of salt, pickles and spicy gravies,” the doctor says, and adds, “Have a teaspoon of salt a day, no more than that. Get used to eating less salt.”
Sugar - And it’s not just about sugar, but any carb-heavy diet. “We must avoid foods with a high glycemic index,” the doctor says. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, and sugar consumption also leads to increased fat deposits in the body. Studies have predicted that in the next decade, every third person in the general population will develop diabetes.
Spirits - While minimal consumption of alcohol is not necessarily harmful to the heart, excessive drinking or binge drinking, which is becoming more common now in urban lives, indirectly impacts the heart in several ways. Excessive drinking increases the fat deposits in the body and increases blood pressure - and both lead to heart diseases.
Sedentary Lifestyle - This is fairly simple. You don’t burn off enough fat in your body, the heart vessels get clogged with it, and that leads to heart blocks. Get up and workout, especially if you like your burger!
Sleeplessness - “Sleep is the most important physiological aspect of a human being, we need at least 8 hours of sleep a day. When you lack that, there are hormone imbalances in your body,” explains Dr Siva Muthukumar. The hormonal imbalances can cause physiological spikes in the body which indirectly affect the heart. And it isn’t just about the number of hours you sleep, but also the sleep timings. Upsetting the circadian rhythm of our body can have an impact on your cardiovascular system.
On an average, our heart beats one lakh ten thousand times a day to keep you alive and kicking, it works really hard for you! So, it’s up to you to put in some effort to keep it healthy.
This article was produced in association with Apollo Hospitals by TNM Brand Studio.