Catching Them Young – Heart Attacks in Young Indians 

26-year-old Abhishek visited the hospital with the complaint of a headache and visual blurring. When his BP was measured, it was 200/130. Medications were given on priority or he would have suffered a brain hemorrhage or heart attack.

Swati is 35 and has already suffered a heart attack at 33 because of spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, responsible for 40 percent of heart attacks in younger women.

Ranjan Das, 42, the youngest CEO of SAP died due to a massive heart attack despite running marathons and a fit lifestyle.

Unhealthy hearts is staring at young Indians. They are getting heart attacks at an age 8-10 years younger than other ethnic groups.  Between 1990 and 2010 premature deaths from cardiovascular diseases increased by 59 percent to 37 million from 23.2 million.
A heart attack does not happen in isolation but is an outcome of an unhealthy lifestyle. The most important causes of a premature heart attack are tobacco consumption, family history of premature heart disease in parents and diabetes.  

The vicious nexus: Obesity-Diabetes-Heart Disease

Certainly, there is something seriously wrong with our lifestyle and environment. The startling fact is that it starts right from the childhood.  According to WHO report, 14.4 million kids in India are suffering from excess weight. Not only obese children have a greater likelihood of growing into obese adults but they also suffer from impaired glucose tolerance, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Diabetes is a very serious risk factor for heart disease just like smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. In fact, people who have type 2 diabetes have the same risk of heart attack and death from heart disease as people who already have had heart attacks. According to the Indian Heart Association, 25 percent of heart attacks happen to people younger than 40 years.

Hypertension: the silent killer

Heightened stress, long working hours, irregular eating habits, eating out frequently, no time or inclination to exercise have become the lifestyle of urban youths. Unfortunately, these factors cause high blood pressure. Sadly, high blood pressure often overlaps with diabetes.

Approximately 80 percent of type-2 diabetics also suffer from high blood pressure, and both are serious risk factors for heart disease. No surprises, between 2015 to 2016 urban India saw a 40 percent increase in cardiology appointments in the age group of 25 to 35 due to high blood pressure.

Where did we go wrong? Not only are we stressed, we are also sleep deprived, like Das. Sleeping for less than 6-7 hours a day is akin to signing the death warrant.

Faulty genetics

Also, it’s hard to ignore the genetic vulnerabilities of Indians to heart diseases. Indians have much higher levels of a deadly genetic factor called lipoprotein-a, or LP(a) than other ethnic groups. The presence of LP (a) is 10 times deadlier in causing clogged arteries than Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol.  

10-Step Prevention Plan 

While we have to live with our genes we can certainly mend our lifestyle. To begin with stop worrying and watch your weight because it stresses your heart. Adopt a healthy lifestyle.

1. Bring fitness outside the gym. Prefer to walk or cycle while running errands. Take steps instead of the elevator.      Practice yoga.

2. Include 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables in your meals. Avoid trans fats, Vegetable oil, refined white flour, deep-fried foods and white sugar. Vegetable oils and trans fats are rich in Omega 6 fatty acids that cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation more than cholesterol is primarily responsible for heart attacks. 

Read our article on Cholesterol to understand how HDL, LDL, and Triglycerides work.

3. Eat two to three servings of fish to get a healthy dose of omega-3 fats. If you are a vegetarian you should include roasted flax seeds and walnuts in your meal plan. Omega 3 helps to convert bad cholesterol on to good ones. 

4. Stop eating sweets post meals. The carbohydrates in sugar get converted into triglycerides, an unhealthy fat which clogs your arteries. More than LDL, it is the triglycerides that are responsible for atherosclerosis. 

5. Quit smoking or chewing tobacco.

6. Include whole grains, easily digestible protein and good fat in your diet as such a  meal will keep you satiated for a longer period of time. 

7. Sleep for 7-8 hours every night. Take a break from technology around bedtime.

8. Avoid exercising outdoors in the smog season. The damage caused by air pollution far outweighs the benefits.

9. Prefer resistance training to aerobics. Resistance exercise also led to a longer-lasting drop in blood pressure (as much as 20 percent) after exercise, compared to aerobic exercise.

10. Meditate. It helps reduces stress and anxiety which helps maintain a healthy heart.

Track Your Numbers 

Track your numbers relentlessly like your weight, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar and LDL cholesterol and learn the formula of 80, if you wish to live beyond 80. Aim for an abdominal circumference in centimeters, blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, pulse and fasting sugar number lower than or equal to 80. Also, explore Ayurveda, the alternate therapy has much to offer in keeping your hearts young.