World Heart Day: Experts advice on how to protect the arterial system

New Delhi: With fast lives, stressful work hours, and minimal sleep hours, cardiovascular events like strokes are on the rise among young Indians. Almost 80% of such incidences are avoidable or preventable, but yet people are falling prey to heart diseases every day. Cardiovascular disease continues to be the world’s number 1 killer, claiming over 17.5 million lives every year. The past 25 years have seen a monumental growth of heart-related ailments in India. A study published in medical journal Lancet recently estimated that almost double the numbers of Indians are dying from heart disease today as compared to in 1990.

Myocardial infarction (heart attack) has a mortality rate of 2 lives per minute, and WHO estimates that over 40 % of deaths, will be attributed to cardiovascular events by 2020. The younger generation needs to adopt certain lifestyle changes to prevent stroke and cardiovascular diseases from becoming an epidemic. Let us take a look at the prime reasons which are responsible for the deteriorating health of youngsters.

What leads to heart diseases?

Factors related to stress include hypertension, smoking, binging on alcohol and lack of physical activity, lifestyle-related habits like binging on junk food and poor diet intake that leads to high cholesterol are marked as prime reasons for arterial dysfunction leading to heart attacks and strokes. Cumulatively all these factors expose the arteries to get clogged leading to interruption in the normal flow of blood in the body. This, in turn, results in the hardening of the arteries thereby affecting the complete arterial system.

“More than 60% of all the cases of strokes and heart attacks are attributed to high blood pressure. By preventing or controlling hypertension alone, the possibilities to prevent a stroke or heart attack increases by 10 folds. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet emphasises on lowering the blood pressure by getting the right amount of nutrients through portion size food. Basically, the diet encourages reducing sodium intake and consuming other required nutrients like calcium, magnesium and potassium, helpful in lowering the blood pressure. Following this diet on a regular basis not only reduces hypertension thereby reducing the risk of stroke but other related ailments like osteoporosis, cardiac ailments, and even cancer can be prevented,” says Dr Dinesh Kumar Mittal, Senior Consultant & Head – CTVS, Max Super Specialty Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.

“The effectiveness of the diet has already been published in many journals. Several studies also show that the systolic blood pressure drops from 160 mm Hg to 140 mm Hg within 3 weeks after following the diet and helps in maintaining the same throughout a lifetime. The following items need to be incorporated in the diet – Flax seeds, Sunflower seeds, Watermelon, Beetroot, Spinach, Whole grains (brown rice / whole wheat flour / Oats)” added Dr Mittal.

For our body to function well, a certain amount of cholesterol is required, but when it exceeds the limits, it leads to plaque formation resulting in clogged arteries that hinders blood flow affecting heart, brain and all other vital organs. As coronary arteries narrow, it is harder for blood to flow and if an area of plaque breaks, it can result in a blood clot, which can block blood flow altogether. Blood flow needs to be restored fast, or there can be a risk of permanent heart damage or death.

“Obesity, which is likely to lead to health complications such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can have a devastating effect on your heart and blood vessels. Close monitoring of diet is necessary to maintain the right levels of good and bad cholesterols. TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) approach consists of three parts – Diet, exercise, and weight management. The diet approach aims to lower the LDL (bad Cholesterol) levels and raises the levels of HDL(good cholesterol). People suffering from high cholesterol should immediately change their eating habits and switch to this diet,” says Dr Vipul Gupta, Director, Neurointervention, Agrim institute for neurosciences, Artemis Hospital.

Be aware of the symptoms of heart-attack

“Our heart is a vital body organ but receives minimal attention and care. Premature heart attacks are largely preventable if we are aware of the symptoms and remain alert to identify as they show themselves. The two most common predictors for CVD are atherosclerosis and hypertension and both can be treated through counselling and medicines. Those who have the critical cardiac condition may experience myocardial infarction (MI) that needs rapid responsive care. Getting yourself tested at an interval of six months is the best way to know your health status and take necessary precaution. Accurate diagnosis is the first step to prevention and early detection increases the chances of treatment,” said Dr Prashant Shetty, Executive Director (Biochemistry, Haematology & Immunoassay Dept) at iGenetic Diagnostics.

“This (World Heart Day) is our chance to come out and discuss the health of our hearts and build a network of close people who are always there to help,” added Dr Shetty.

Prevention of cardiovascular diseases

“This whopping increase in heart problems can mostly be contributed to lifestyle factors such as a decrease in physical activity, obesity and change in eating habits, especially among urban Indians. Increased exposure to air pollution and high-stress levels are other factors. Children must be pushed away from digital devices and sent out to playing fields. Every individual who doesn’t exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, who has high BMI or who doesn’t consume enough fruits and vegetables is a high-risk individual for heart disease. This education must be drilled into the minds of our children and adults. Even doctors have a responsibility to play in this. Every doctor, be it of any speciality, must make it a point to educate his/her patients about this threat and the need for prevention,” suggested Dr Dharminder Nagar, MD, Paras Healthcare.

Apart from diet, physical inactivity also leads to plaque build-up. At least half an hour of daily activity is mandatory to avoid any risk of stroke or other ailments related to the arterial system.

Quit smoking: One must avoid smoking as it increases the risk of stroke by three times. Smoke and not the nicotine content is responsible for stroke. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide which are transferred from the lungs into the bloodstream, changing and damaging cells all around your body.

Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol increases the risk of ischemic (lack of blood flow to the brain due to a block in the artery) and hemorrhagic (bleed into the brain tissue) stroke, and also elevates blood pressure. This, in turn, causes damage to the inner wall of the artery. Alcohol is also known to reduce blood flow to the brain by decreasing the calibre of the brain arteries through a direct effect on the muscles of the arteries. Excess alcohol affects the heart muscles resulting in impaired function and altered rhythm.