Heart diseases are the most common cause of death in most countries of the world. Globally, more than 20 crore people annually are diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD) and 2 crore of them lose their lives due to it, which accounts to 10% mortality rate. India alone accounts for 6 crore people having some form of heart disease, with a mortality rate of 35 lakh per annum. India is the world leader in number of heart patients, and the number is continually on the rise. It is estimated that about 9,000 persons every day lose their lives to heart disease in India. While the mortality rate due to Covid-19 is within 2%, heart diseases kill over 10% but are still comparatively neglected. There are 8-10 crore (80-100 million) heart patients in India and every 10 seconds one person dies of heart disease in this country. As per a study carried out by Global Health Research Institute in all states of India, 25 percent of deaths related to heart ailments occur in the age group of 25-69 years. Out of these, 32.8 percent deaths occur in urban areas and 22.9 percent in rural areas.
Heart disease encompasses a wide range of cardiovascular problems. Some major types of these problems are Arrhythmia (a heart rhythm abnormality), Atherosclerosis (a hardening of the arteries), Cardiomyopathy (a condition that causes the heart’s muscles to harden or grow weak), Congenital heart defects (heart irregularities present at birth), Coronary artery disease (caused by build-up of plaque in arteries; sometimes called ischemic heart disease); Heart infections (that may be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites.)
There are various causes of heart diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, stress and anxiety, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, excessive use of alcohol or caffeine, medications and supplements, hereditary or family history, previous heart ailment, etc. Can we save ourselves from being a victim of heart disease? There are many things that can raise the risk of heart disease. They are called risk factors. Some of them aren’t under your control but there are many that you can control. Learning about them can lower your risk of heart disease. The risk factors that you cannot change are:
Age risk, which increases as we grow older (men aged 45 and above and women aged 55 and above have a greater risk).
Gender. Some risk factors are different in women from those in men. For example, oestrogen provides women some protection against heart disease, but diabetes raises the risk of heart disease more in women than in men.
Race or ethnicity. East Asians, for example, have lower rates of heart disease, but South Asians have higher rates.
Family history. You are at a greater risk if you have a close family member who had heart disease at an early age.
What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease?
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of getting heart disease:
Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly, at least once every 6 months, and more often if you have high blood pressure. Take steps, including lifestyle changes, to prevent or control high blood pressure. Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, and skimping on saturated fat and cholesterol, can lower your blood pressure. Include citrus foods in your diet and avoid salt, deli meat, pizzas, pickles, canned soups, fatty and sugary products. Here in Kashmir, completely avoid salted tea as morning tea, or have it on alternate days.
Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control. High levels of cholesterol can clog your arteries and raise your risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack. Lifestyle changes and medicines (if needed) can lower your cholesterol. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides raise the risk of coronary artery disease, especially in women.
Stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight or having obesity can increase your risk for heart disease. This is mostly because they are linked to other heart disease risk factors, including high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Controlling your weight can lower these risks. Don’t skip your breakfast, drink lots of water, include dietary fibre in your diet, fight off your hunger with more filling foods, and plan your meals.
Eat a healthy diet. Try to limit saturated fats, foods high in sodium and added sugars. Eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. The DASH diet is an example of an eating plan that can help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Get regular exercise. Exercise has many benefits, including strengthening your heart and improving your circulation. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Many people can now be seen in the gym or in public parks engaged in morning or evening walks and jogging. Engage yourself in similar activities or sports.
Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain. Both of those raise your risk of heart disease. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should not have more than one.
Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk of heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, quitting will reduce your risk. You can talk with your healthcare provider for help in finding the best way for you to quit. Don’t let anyone smoke near you, at least within 1-meter radius.
Manage stress. Stress is linked to heart disease in many ways. It can raise your blood pressure, and extreme stress can be a “trigger” for a heart attack. Also, some common ways of coping with stress, such as overeating, heavy drinking, and smoking, are bad for your heart. Some ways to help manage your stress include exercise, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, and meditating.
Manage diabetes. Having diabetes doubles your risk of heart disease, because over time, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. So, it is important to get tested for diabetes, and if you have it, to keep it under control. For people of Kashmir, they must limit the quantity of their daily intake of rice.
Make sure that you get enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you raise your risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep in the night. Make sure that you have good sleep habits. If you have frequent sleep problems, contact your healthcare provider. One problem, sleep apnea, causes people to briefly stop breathing many times during sleep. This interferes with your ability to get a good rest and can raise your risk of heart disease. If you think you might have it, ask your doctor about having a sleep study. And if you do have sleep apnea, make sure that you get treatment for it.
People must be aware about heart diseases and their prevention. Health camps must be held to provide medical assistance to patients of heart diseases. The government must pay heed towards establishing more infrastructure for treatment of heart diseases. Rehabilitation centres must be set up to help people struggling with stress, anxiety and depression issues. There should be enough public gyms and parks to motivate more people towards doing daily exercises.
May Allah bless us all with good health!
—The writer is an MBBS student at Community Based Medical College, Bangladesh. [email protected]