Young Indians more vulnerable to heart attacks, say doctors

Cardiologists say they have, over the last decade, seen an increase in persons suffering heart attacks in their 20s and 30s.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

TIRUCHY: The death of actor Sidharth Shukla at a young age following a heart attack has sent shockwaves across the country.

This has turned people's attention on young persons dying owing to heart ailments. When 29-year-old Danish footballer Christian Eriksen suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during a Euro 2020 match a few months ago, many wondered how it could happen to a fit and young athlete.

Cardiologists say they have, over the last decade, seen an increase in persons suffering heart attacks in their 20s and 30s.

Dr Kader Sahib Ashraf, Senior Interventional Cardiologist, Apollo Hospitals, Tiruchy,  says: "I started practising 15 years ago. In the first few years of my practice, we would very rarely see patients in their
30s. We would all gather around to decide about the treatment. Now, it has become very common. What I have observed in the past 10 years is that youngsters without risk factors are also getting heart attacks."

According to the Indian Heart Association, when heart disease strikes Indians, it tends to do so at an earlier age (almost 33 per cent earlier) than other demographics, often without prior warning.

Fifty per cent of all heart attacks in Indian men occur under 50 years of age and 25 per cent of all heart attacks in Indian men occur under 40 years of age. Indian women have high mortality rates from cardiac disease as well.

So why are Indians, particularly young Indians more prone to heart attacks?

Indians have a greater genetic predisposition to heart diseases. Studies have found that Indians get heart diseases at least 10 years before people in the West, says Dr Kader.

"Indians have a higher tendency/risk to coronary artery disease. If people get heart disease in their 60s in western countries, Indians get it in their 50s, and now, the age is much lower. Another reason is
that Indians have smaller blood vessels (coronary arteries) than people in the West. Add to that, risk factors like premature diabetes, obesity, accelerated atherosclerosis (deposit of fat in the blood vessels) and a young person suffers heart attacks," he says.

Indians also consume a lot of trans fats, doctors say. Mental stress, smoking and alcohol are additional risk factors. Dr Senthilkumar Nallusamy, Senior Interventional Cardiologist and Director, Rana Hospital, says one of the biggest risk factors he has seen in young patients is smoking.

"There are some risk factors like smoking, stress, alcohol and family history. Diabetes, hypertension, sedentary lifestyle, high cholesterol, obesity are the common risk factors across all age groups. Some, however, may not have any risk factor. That is called a sudden cardiac arrest, where the heart can stop due to any reason.

Youngsters can have cardiac arrests due to rhythm problems or muscle disorder called Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy. It often goes undiagnosed, and causes thickening of the heart muscle," Dr Senthil says.

There is a difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest, he adds.

Says Dr Balasubramanian, HOD Cardiology, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Government Hospital, "In the past few years, work culture has changed drastically. People are very stressed in their workplace and tend to eat outside a lot. They eat food that is high in sugar, salt and fat. The stress also causes youngsters to take to smoking, drinking and other unhealthy habits." Citing sleeplessness as another risk factor.

Dr S Aravindakumar, Chief Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Kauvery Hospitals Tiruchy, says "About 15-20 per cent of my patients are below the age of 40. The primary reason that I have observed, is stress. Most of the young patients are corporate, IT employees, who work with US clients. With work from home, their targets have increased, and they work for longer hours. They work during nights,
which causes lack of sleep. They don’t have to time to exercise or follow a healthy diet. Lack of sleep causes hormonal imbalance, leading to obesity, which all collectively trigger diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

"Talking about the necessity of creating awareness, Dr Aravindakumar says, "We must educate people and convince them about the importance of physical activity and exercises. If you exercise every day, follow a proper diet and maintain your weight, it will do you good."

Doctors also say that while a heart attack cannot necessarily be prevented, one can control the risk
factors. Also, one must not ignore any new symptom just because he is in the 20-30 age group.

"Do not ignore symptoms like breathlessness, chest pain, excessive sweating and dizziness. Also, one should try to stop smoking and consuming too much alcohol. Have an active lifestyle and avoid fatty foods," Dr Balasubramanian says.

Doctors also recommend check-ups for even those in their late 20s and 30s , if they have a family history of cardiovascular diseases.

Heart attacks in Indian men

  • 50% heart attacks < 50 year old

  • 25% heart attacks < 40 year old

(Source - Indian Heart Association)

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