When 27-year-old Vinod (name changed for privacy) left for work that morning, he felt tired and anxious but in fine health otherwise. He had been working late into the night and was forced to skip breakfast to get to office on time. As he walked down to the cab, he ignored the tightness and discomfort extending downwards in his left arm, figuring that he had just slept badly. Soon after he reached office, he collapsed and appeared breathless, and was rushed to the hospital. There, the doctors broke the news to him, telling him the last thing he expected – he had suffered a heart attack.
Until a decade or two ago, cardiac arrests were a danger only for older adults, with doctors advising heart health screenings after the age of 50. However, in recent years, Indians have grown into one of the most heart-unhealthy populations in the world.
The numbers are truly sobering, says Dr T Senthil Kumar, Chief Cardio Thoracic and Vascular Surgeon at Kauvery Heartcity in Trichy. Today, 28% of deaths in India result from heart disease. And Indians suffer heart attacks at least 20 years earlier on an average than those born in the West. The particular morphology of Indians put them more at risk for heart disease, explains Dr Senthil. “Generally, Indians are much smaller built than the western population, they also have smaller hearts, and their coronary arteries are also significantly smaller. Added to this is a very high incidence of diabetes in Indians which leads to more widespread disease in the coronary arteries,” he says.
While genetics play a role, doctors point out that multiple lifestyle factors are also to blame for the rising levels of heart disease among young Indians.
Tobacco use is one of the biggest risk factors for developing heart disease, with 26% of cardiovascular diseases among people in the 30-44 age group resulting from tobacco use. 16% of the total deaths due to cardiovascular disease each year are the result of smoking. Tobacco can affect the levels of different types of fats in the blood, increase the risk of clots, and damage or thicken and narrow blood vessels and cause build-up of plaque in them.The rise in prevalence of diabetes is also a cause for concern, says Dr Senthil. “Diabetics are three times more prone to developing heart disease than the normal population,” he explains.