Heart-related ailments among young Indians recently have become a concern for health experts. The issue is being debated why there has been a surge in heart attack cases in relatively younger age groups in India. From celebrities to common youngsters, most of them fit, heart ailments are claiming young lives.
Recently, an 18-year-old engineering student collapsed in a college corridor. We have been seeing videos of normal looking and behaving people collapsing all of a sudden during their dance moves.
It’s well-documented how celebrities and elite sportsmen – Sushmita Sen and Sourav Ganguly are notable examples – have dealt with heart scares. Shocking of all was the abrupt exit of Raju Srivastav. The high-spirited humourist, who would warm our evenings with rib-tickling one-liners and impeccable comic timing, died while working out at a Delhi gym. He was just 58.
Forty-year-olds visiting emergency rooms with heart conditions isn’t a surprise anymore. According to the World Health Organisation, India is extremely vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases. WHO data reveals that India accounts for almost one-fifth of the 17.9 million cardiovascular disease-related deaths in the world, especially in the younger generation.
Medical science is still searching for strong answers to heart failures in youth, unheard of in the past decade. Perhaps, Dr Tejas Patel, a cardiologist from Ahmedabad, might shed light on why our hearts which, he believes, are the engines of our bodies, are at such severe risk these days.
In a freewheeling interview with Vibes of India, Dr Patel, who has won the Padma Shri and Doctor BC Roy Award, agrees that 25 to 30-year-olds reporting heart problems is disturbing not only to cardiologists but also to societies. Admitting that “something needs to be done”, Dr Patel recalls his days as an assistant professor in a civil hospital in the 90s. Back then, 40-year-olds would come with suspected heart issues. In the early 2000s, this issue was prevalent in 35-year-olds. The age limit for cardiac issues, he laments, is coming down every decade.
He says there was a time when 50-year-olds reporting heart conditions seemed a surprise. When he became an MD in the late 80s, more 50-year-olds would grapple with heart problems compared to the years when he was practising as a DM cardiologist. “There was a time when the average lifespan of men was about 48 to 50. Women lived till 52 or thereabout. Now, despite poor air quality, fast food and all those things, the average lifespan of Indian men is more than 70 to 72 years. Indian women live up to 73-74 years. That’s because of good treatment,” he says.
But is it a myth that women are less vulnerable to heart attacks in their pre-menopause years? “I’ve faced this question often in the past,” he says. “I’m frequently asked whether heart ailments for women start only after they reach a certain age like after menopause. These days it’s not true. We handle heart ailments of women who are 35 or 40 years old. They are exposed to other risks caused by oral contraceptive pills. Also, the rate of smoking among women has gone up. That is unfortunate.”
Dr Patel, who’s been practising for 32 years, feels more research and development is essential to reduce the incidence of mortality, but nothing like prevention. And prevention, as it’s said, is delay. He insists that this is the surest way to create healthy societies down the line.
He believes lifestyle modification will continue to be the mainstay treatment.
Dr Patel agrees that times have changed. Clean air and organic and fertiliser-free food are now in the past. Preservatives, fast food, artificial fertilisers, and declining air quality aren’t conducive for our cardiac muscles.
Food becomes a critical theme in our conversation. “Food that is unfriendly to the tongue might be friendly for the heart,” he reminds. “Food with antioxidant properties benefit the heart and blood vessels.” He gives the analogy of java plum or pomegranate which may not appeal to our taste buds more as opposed to mangoes. “You will perhaps have 34 kesar or Alphonso mangoes if you are hungry. But if I give you oranges, you might have just one or two. We prefer food that is crispy, crunchy, and sweet. Everyone enjoys fast food that has plenty of simple sugar and trans-fat,” he says, cautioning that consumption of complex sugar food can trigger serious health issues. Gujaratis, he feels, have low food health awareness.
It was inevitable that the conversation would move towards stress that increases the level of cortisol, blood sugar, triglycerides, and blood pressure. A recent survey, part of the India Fit Report 22-23, titled ‘Game-Changing Health & Wellbeing Revolution in India’ concluded that a staggering 24% of Indians are afflicted with stress. He avers that peer pressure on performance only aggravates our stress levels. Dr Patel explains how our bodies release catecholamines in response to stress. And it’s essential, he points out, that stress management complements the right food habits.
He recalls his earlier days in the profession, “Each time I handled a sick patient, regular or VIP class, I would experience stress. These days I manage it well.”
He cautions that cardiac health management isn’t about quick fixes. “Even a small artery can kill since it hampers heart rhythm. But if there’s a big block in the main artery, the risk is higher. Even if there are borderline blocks, there are higher chances of the areas getting ruptured. Nowadays, diabetes is a household affair. India will soon be the world capital of diabetes which is not good. Thus, we must get ourselves checked regularly and try to identify the problem before it causes further damage.”
How much of cardiovascular diseases could be attributed to genetic factors? “We have some control in choosing our spouses but we can’t decide who our parents will be. The risk of genes contributing to heart ailments is strong, so it’s essential to be careful when we’re young. Let’s not deviate much from a healthy lifestyle,” he suggests.
Management of the heart comes down to the family values passed on to us. On this, he cites his example. His father, a physician, would instil in him the importance of taking care of himself. Moving around and playing was Dr Patel’s way of life. He never had a sedentary lifestyle.
Dr Patel believes this generation is more health conscious. “They hit the gym and want to look good. They’re doing their best to maintain their bodies. Twenty-four hours is a long time. You must find time to exercise.”
As our conversation draws to a close, he shares the small details that add value to our life and ‘heart’. Hold your nerves. Invest 25-30 minutes for yourself to help yourself to a small lunch. Five-ten minutes of a good power nap has rejuvenating powers. Spend some time cooling down. And let’s not ignore the wonder exercise, Yoga. Pranayam and Shavasana have the power to reduce stress and anxiety.
The interview leaves us in a reflective mode. Dr Patel has not only educated but also elevated us.
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