India loses about 30 lakh people per year to heart disease. According to WHO, cardiovascular diseases will be the largest cause of death and disability in India by 2020. If this does not serve as a wake-up call, then what will?
If we take the threat of heart disease seriously, we need to act and act fast. It's important to trace the problem to its source and tackle it from there. As a developing nation we cannot bear the huge economic burden of deadly lifestyle diseases like diabetes and heart problem.
The government is already struggling to tackle the healthcare issues. At present, it spends just 1 per cent of its gross domestic product on public health leading to a public health infrastructure which is sorely deficient. Apart from developing world health problems and communicable diseases, India now has to grapple with the dual burden of chronic diseases that accompany unhealthy lifestyles-diabetes and heart disease — which are eating into the finances of the individuals and the country.
One can take heart from the fact that heart disease can be prevented as it is related to the lifestyle of the patient. Some of the risk factors for heart disease that can be modified are diabetes, high blood cholesterol, consumption of tobacco, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and stress. The focus should be on attacking these risk factors.
A smoker's risk of having a heart attack is twice more than that of a non-smoker. Smoking speeds up the development of plaque in the arteries. It also reduces the level of the good cholesterol (known as HDL), and increases the stickiness of blood cells causing blood clots inside the arteries. Stubbing out that cigarette can be the first step to protecting oneself from heart disease.
Diet and exercise are known to play a key role in controlling the menace. Exercise helps protect against heart disease. It's important to know that every extra step one takes during the day builds up the "health balance" and helps prevent disease. Incorporating 30 minutes of exercise in daily life can lead to immense benefits.
It is also important to maintain a healthy weight, according to one's height. Studies have shown that healthy eating and exercise lead to improved health parameters, even in the absence of weight loss.
Eating right is as important as exercising. One should stay away from diet fads and stick to 'sensible diets' that result in long lasting benefits. Several servings of vegetables and fruits, oil lowest in saturated content and several small meals in a day are ways to eat right. The intake of simple sugars needs to be kept to a minimum, while consuming more of complex carbohydrates. What is also required is a regular check-up of parameters. Most of the risk factors for heart disease are silent and therefore one needs to keep a regular watch over weight, glucose levels, blood pressure etc to pre-empt the disease.
One can combat the disease at the grass root level by simply being more aware and cautious about the risk factors and symptoms. But existing cases of heart disease and those in the danger zone need governmental help as well. The population of the country must get an opportunity to attain the highest-possible level of health. Access to quality, affordable healthcare is absolutely essential especially for the poor and marginalized population.
Many lifestyle diseases have their origin in childhood. Unhealthy eating habits among children lead to lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease later in life. This calls for the need to educate children about the ill effects of unhealthy snacking. The Centre recently asked state governments to ban sale of junk food and carbonated drinks on schools premises. The Union health and family welfare ministry wants guidelines to be framed to serve good quality food like dal, roti, sprouts etc in schools and colleges.
More needs to be done to curb childhood obesity and related problems like heart disease. People in the metros are not only hard pressed for time but also for open spaces to exercise. A study of 4000 Indian children in 15 cities indicated that 23 per cent of 5 to 14 year olds in urban schools were overweight, while nearly 11 per cent were obese. Overweight children are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Open spaces in the city are few and far between. The existing ones are getting more crowded than ever, leading to children spending more time in front of their TV and computer screens. Civic administration of cities needs to give heed to the development and maintenance of open spaces for the citizens.
A holistic view of the disease would lead to holistic measures being taken. Programmes to combat NCDs are under-funded in India at present. As the world discusses this growing malaise at a world forum, India needs to chalk out its own plan to combat it.
Smoking is the one of the most important preventable causes of premature death. A smoker's risk of having a heart attack is twice more than that of a non-smoker. Smoking speeds up the development of plaque in the arteries, reduces the level of the good HDL cholesterol, and increases the stickiness of blood cells causing blood clots inside the arteries.
High blood pressure or hypertension is often referred to as the "silent killer." The reason for this is that people often suffer severe problems related to hypertension, without being aware that their pressure is high. . It is a common misconception that your systolic BP should be your age plus 100. This is a myth.
A high blood pressure has been defined as either the higher number, called systolic pressure being over 140 or the lower number, called diastolic pressure being over 90. However, your ideal Blood Pressure should be below 120/80.
If LDL or bad cholesterol is too high in your blood, some of it sticks to the walls of blood vessels and is absorbed. The end result is large fatty deposits in the blood vessels which cause the vessels to become narrow , stiff, narrow and less responsive to triggers to expand and constrict, reducing the blood flow to the heart and other organs. This leads to heart diseases and potentially a heart attack. Therefore it is important to make lifestyle changes, exercise regularly, eat healthy and minimalize the sources of bad fats.
Indians have one of the highest genetic risks for diabetes. It is a very serious disease in itself and leads to complications in the eyes, kidneys, and blood vessels, besides being one of the major risk factors for heart disease. In clinical practice we are observing more patients (and at younger ages) with Syndrome X, also called the 'Metabolic Syndrome', in which high blood sugar, high blood pressure, a large waistline, and abnormal lipid values are all clustered together.
Diabetes is diagnosed on the basis of your fasting glucose levels. A level of more than 126 mg/dl indicates diabetes. However, this should be confirmed by another test done on a different day.
Normal fasting blood sugar should be 70 -100 mg/dl
As India is becoming more 'prosperous' so are the waistlines of its citizens. Obesity can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, as well as other complications such as arthritis. A sensible diet, combined with an exercise programme is the best way to lose weight. Crash diets do not work in the long term, and may actually be harmful for the body.
The role of stress in the development of heart disease is not clearly defined as it cannot be 'measured' by any test, but it is advisable that you keep your stress levels as low as possible.
The triggers of heart disease can be controlled by leading a healthy life. This should include a healthy diet which lowers cholesterol and blood pressure and also keep obesity in check. Regular physical activity of some kind is also beneficial in keeping heart disease at bay. One should try to maintain the ideal Body Mass Index or healthy weight for a sustained period of time. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation and tobacco consumption should be stopped immediately.
The key is to stay away from risk factors of heart disease. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the possibility of developing heart disease.