Unhealthy lifestyles fuelling heart disease epidemic in India

Interview: From jaw pain to nausea — 10 warning signs of heart health


World Heart Day, observed annually on September 29, serves as a crucial reminder to raise public awareness about the prevalence and impact of cardiovascular diseases. 

In a somber reality, India alone accounts for approximately one-fifth of the staggering global tally of 17.9 million deaths related to these conditions, with a particularly alarming effect on younger individuals. The Asian Pacific Society of Cardiology (APSC) recently published a report revealing that heart failure alone leads to 1.8 million hospitalisations each year in India. 

As World Heart Day approaches, The Week spoke to Dr. Swarnika Srivastava, Associate Consultant in Cardiac Surgery at Medanta– The Medicity, Gurugram

Why is it important to prioritise heart health?

Prioritising heart health is of utmost importance for our overall well-being. The heart is a remarkable organ responsible for pumping blood and oxygen throughout our body, sustaining every cell and tissue. Maintaining a healthy heart is vital because cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of mortality worldwide. A heart in good condition ensures proper blood flow, reduces the risk of heart-related conditions, and promotes longevity. By adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, stress management, and routine medical check-ups, we can safeguard our heart's health and enhance our quality of life. Prioritising heart health is an investment in a longer, healthier, and more vibrant life. 

Is there a sharp rise in sudden cardiac deaths or is it that we are noticing it more because of the media? 

The prevalence of heart diseases, including sudden cardiac deaths (SCDs), heart failure and heart attacks, has surged significantly in India. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, but poor lifestyle choices and unhealthy diets are the most important ones. Everyone has become a victim of poor health, and the situation is getting worse. Such people, despite their physical fitness, are affected by habits such as smoking and eating junk food. Most people don’t pay attention to these things until the situation becomes grave. 

Give us a list of 10 warning signs of a deteriorating heart.

· Chest Discomfort (Angina): This is one of the classic symptoms of heart problems. People often describe it as a feeling of pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the chest. Angina can occur during physical activity or emotional stress when the heart is working harder and needs more oxygen than it's receiving due to narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. 

· Shortness of Breath: If you find yourself becoming breathless even with light physical activity or while resting, it could indicate a problem with your heart. Heart failure, where the heart can't pump blood efficiently, often leads to this symptom. 

· Fatigue: Persistent and unexplained tiredness or fatigue, even after getting adequate rest, might signal heart issues. It's often described as an overwhelming and unrelenting sense of tiredness. 

· Swelling (Edema): Fluid retention can cause swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, and sometimes the abdomen. This is a common symptom of heart failure, where the heart struggles to effectively circulate blood forwards which leads to backpressure changes, leading to fluid buildup. 

· Irregular Heartbeat (Arrhythmia): Palpitations, skipped beats, or a feeling of an irregular heart rhythm can be signs of an arrhythmia. Some arrhythmias are benign, but others can be serious and increase the risk of complications like stroke. 

· Dizziness or Light-headedness: Frequent sensations of dizziness, feeling faint, or light- headedness can occur due to reduced blood flow to the brain. This may result from heart issues affecting blood circulation. 

· High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Consistently elevated blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease. It often has no symptoms, so regular blood pressure checks are crucial. 

· Excessive Sweating: Profuse and unexplained sweating, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath, can be a sign of a heart attack or another cardiac event. 

· Nausea or Vomiting: Persistent nausea or vomiting, especially when experienced alongside other symptoms like chest discomfort, could indicate inadequate blood flow to the digestive system due to heart problems. 

· Jaw or Throat Pain: Pain or discomfort in the jaw, throat, neck, or even the shoulders or back, particularly when associated with other symptoms, might be referred pain from the heart. This can occur in some cases of heart disease and should not be ignored. 

Recognising these warning signs is crucial for early intervention and preventing heart- related complications. Regular check-ups with cardiologist and maintaining a heart- healthy lifestyle through diet, exercise, and stress management are essential. By staying vigilant and seeking prompt medical attention when needed, individuals can better protect their heart health.