Coronary Heart Disease in India
Cases of this heart disease are increasing rapidly in India—we try to understand why and what can be done to prevent and treat it in elderly citizens.
One of the most common heart diseases in the world, coronary heart disease is a leading cause of mortality. In the last few decades, there has been a significant rise in the number of cases, and studies by the Indian Heart Journal claim that three fifths of the total deaths in India are caused by non-communicable diseases, and coronary heart disease is a growing cause. In fact, a 2019 study in the Indian Heart Journal reports that 26.9 percent of circulatory-system-related deaths in 2015 were related to coronary heart disease. The World Health Organisation also supports this with its own 2018 report that suggests 63 percent of deaths in India are because of non-communicable diseases, and 27 percent of these deaths are from cardiovascular diseases.
There are a variety of reasons to explain why India is seeing such a rise in coronary heart disease cases. First and foremost, as noted by the Indian Heart Journal, along with the rapid rate of urbanisation has come various ‘risk factors’ like hypertension, diabetes, increased smoking, obesity and the adoption of a more sedentary lifestyle. And, contrary to popular belief, most people in India don’t consume enough vegetables and have a diet that isn’t well-balanced; the National Family Health Survey-3 found in its sample that most people were self-reporting an intake of only one serving of fruit per week. This is exacerbated by insufficient physical activity; research suggests that people above the age of 65 should strive to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity in a week.
However, this is also a disease that can be prevented and treated with early detection, lifestyle changes and medical innovations, but before we get into those, let’s discuss what exactly is coronary heart disease.
When the coronary arteries (they are the ones that bring blood to the heart) thicken because of a plaque build-up—it can narrow the channel, essentially limiting or blocking off the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart—it is diagnosed as coronary heart disease. This plaque is made up of cholesterol and other deposits. This in turn can lead to chest pain—known as angina— the heart having to work much harder to pump blood, arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat) or a heart attack should the arteries become fully blocked. While one may not show any symptoms because the disease progresses over a lengthy period of time, often manifesting in a heart attack when the blockage becomes too large, there are some signs: Angina, cold sweats, dizziness, shortness of breath, a feeling of tightness of one’s chest, light-headedness and pain and nausea. There are tests to check for coronary heart disease, like a treadmill test to see how efficiently the body pumps blood during physical activity, an EKG, a chest X-ray, calcium scans, cardiac catheterization and angiogram, or an echocardiogram. These tests measure the regularity of one’s heartbeat, check if there are any blockages, and scan for build-ups in the arteries, depending on what the healthcare practitioner feels is best for that case.
Along with regular screenings, there are some lifestyle changes that can lower one’s risk for coronary heart disease:
- Giving up tobacco: Smoking is known to be one of the biggest risk factors, as is inhaling smoke for non-smokers.
- Healthy body weight: If one is overweight, losing weight in a healthy, balanced manner can drastically reduce the risk.
- Nutrition: One’s diet needs to include all the food groups, and reduce consumption of saturated fats and trans fats. A lower intake of sodium is important as well.
- Stay active: As mentioned before, aiming to complete at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week is vital. It could be a simple walk, but it will help control diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
- Check the numbers: Monitor blood pressure levels to ensure they are at the normal range.
- Manage stress: Everyone is aware of how stress can be harmful for one’s body, and it’s no different when it comes to the heart. Try and control it by talking to someone, meditation, and adequate sleep.
With these lifestyle changes, your doctor may also recommend medications to control diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure.
While it can be scary, it’s important to understand that it’s possible to get a headstart and take preventive action. It’s never too late to start implementing these changes, and they can make the world of a difference.
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At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.