When you were growing up, the face of heart attacks used to be our grandfather’s. Now it is our friends in their 20s and 30s.
Drop the fizzy drink. While you’re at it, trash the fries and the samosas too, because heart attacks are no longer an old man’s disease. According to an analysis of more than 3.5 lakh heart patients in the country by the National Interventional Council, 1 in 10 heart surgeries in 2015 was done on people below the age of 40.
So what’s happening here? Why is the young Indian heart under an attack?
Being Young Does Not Guarantee a Healthy Heart
Five years ago, Pramod, a Mumbai-based animator, took the last local train to return home on the night of his 23rd birthday.
In the train, I felt slightly uncomfortable in my chest. I thought it’s just exhaustion or the fact that I had mixed drinks. But the pain did not subside at home also. It wasn’t a throbbing pain, just a constant discomfort, and then vomiting. The next day, I went with my mom to a hospital, thinking it’s indigestion. But then the doctor dropped the bomb.Pramod, Heart Patient at 23
Heart attack at 23? Unheard of?
I see some three to four heart patients a month under the age of 40. The most shocking case, even to the medical fraternity, was that of an 18-year-old having a cardiac arrest in Mumbai itself. She wasn’t treated at my hospital, though.Dr Ashish Contractor, Cardiologist
The demographics have changed. Blame the urban stress, the occasional puffs, sedentary lifestyle and a growing appetite for junk food – heart attacks in the early 20s or 30s are not rare anymore.
My whole family has been scared since then. But my lifestyle has completely changed. No more erratic work shifts. I eat all meals on time and without fail, brisk walk for 30 minutes every day.Pramod, Heart Patient at 23
There are many things that Pramod has changed. The stamp of a heart attack is one thing he can’t. But why wait for a life-threatening episode to overhaul your lifestyle?
Indians & Vegetarians at a Greater Risk
5 million Indians are already suffering from heart diseases. Spicy food, high in oil and salt diet, lack of exercise, and the low intake of fresh fruits and fiber.
A recent study done by the Public Health Foundation found that oil intake in urban households has increased by a whopping 50% from the 90s to now. Fat intake rose from 42 gms a day to 52 gms in the last 12 years. No wonder, heart diseases are the single largest cause of death in India.
But young Indian masculine hearts are particularly at risk. According to the American Heart Association, compared to 5.6% heart attacks in under 40 in the West, India records 12%.
There are indications that our arteries are narrower than the rest of the world. The ‘thrifty famine theory’ is also showing its effect. The shortage of food in the past has genetically programmed Indians to store fat more efficiently than other races.Dr BP Goyal, Director, Cardiac Dept, Bombay Hospital
Vegetarians are predisposed to heart conditions as well.
Lack of vitamin B12, which by definition is primarily found in animal products, is a big factor for heart attacks.
Related Read: Six Ways To Prevent Heart Disease in Your 20s
Is Your Heart the Same Age As You Are?
You may be sleek but do you have the agility and flexibility to run for the door when you’re sunk in your couch? Or the spring in your step to walk up a flight of stairs without panting?
Well, the reason can be, your heart is not the same age as you are.
The process of blockage of arteries starts as soon as you are born. But the speed at which that happens, is directly proportional to the food you eat, the lifestyle you lead, the amount of exercise and your genetic makeup. So you may be just 30 years old, but your heart can be much older.Dr BP Goyal, Director, Cardiac Dept, Bombay Hospital
But as Pramod says, in your teens you think you’re immortal. The healthy lifestyle gyaan is a hardsell. His 22-year-old cousin, despite all family discussions, still orders the double cheese big Mac with fries.
Related Read: Can Exercise Really Hurt Your Heart?