What is Stiff Heart Syndrome and how to keep it away

Stiff Heart Syndrome has remained outside of the ambit of popular cardiac discourse. Let’s talk about it now.

Published: 20th September 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th September 2020 05:17 PM   |  A+A-

For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)

Atul Khandelwal was a sprightly 43-year-old, living in Pune with his wife and children. He led a largely healthy life, but had one bane to tackle everyday—high blood pressure. Because he hardly ever noticed any symptoms, he would let his guard down—his biggest folly. That his negligence would cost him a near-death experience, he had never fathomed. It started with a bit of light-headedness on that unfateful day. Khandelwal still went to work. Post lunch, he came back to his cubicle, settled into his chair and collapsed. The ambulance reached in 20 minutes and he was admitted into ICU subsequently. After hours of investigation, he was diagnosed with Stiff Heart Syndrome, a condition he and his family were oblivious to. 

And that’s why it’s crucial to speak about it. It starts off with fatigue. You can’t exercise strongly. You get palpitations. You are short of breath when you do physical activity. There is swelling in the abdomen, legs and ankles. Breathing while lying flat on the bed is a problem. It could be fatal. Most probably you have Stiff Heart Syndrome. Mostly cardiac matters revolve around coronary artery disease, arrhythmia and heart infections. On the occasion of World Heart Day on September 29, it would be worthwhile to shift attention to one of the most rapid killers of our times, the Stiff Heart Syndrome. 

What is Stiff Heart Syndrome? 
It is present just in one percent of the population in the 40 years’ age group. It could increase to 10 percent by 75. It affects between 1.5 and 5.5 percent of the population, which in the Indian context means approximately 2.03- 7.44 crore people. Women generally suffer most. It occurs when protein accumulates on heart muscle, and influences the electrical signals in the heart.

“Diastole is when the heart’s chambers receive blood and the muscles relax. The heart pumps blood for circulation by contracting. This is called systole. The organ needs to relax and expand adequately to receive sufficient blood. Any interruption in this function causes heart failures. This is known as a stiff heart,” says Dr Mukesh Goel, Senior Consultant, Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi. 

Cases are growing. The cause of worry is that there’s little knowledge among people about stiff heart syndrome. “Most patients need counseling first wherein we explain the issue in detail,” says Pune-based cardiologist Jagannath Misra. 

Common causes
1. Cardiomyopathy: A cardiac disease that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. 

2. Ischemic heart disease, which restricts blood supply to tissues causing shortage of oxygen, which is required for cellular metabolism. Other causes are diabetes and hypertension. 

3. High blood pressure. Heart muscles thicken in response to building pressure. First come irregular and short breaths, followed by water retention. 

4. Certain types of blood cancers can trigger it. Aggressive intervention needed.

Keeping it away 
Most importantly, keep a close watch on your blood pressure. Reduce alcohol consumption and avoid smoking. Lose weight. Take diabetes into control. Aerobic exercises are highly recommended.  

“The heart pumps blood for circulation by contracting. It needs to relax and expand to receive sufficient blood. Any interruption can causes heart failures and this is known as a stiff heart.” Mukesh Goel, Senior Consultant, Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi


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