Over the past two years, many incidents of untimely and sudden deaths due to heart attack (or Myocardial Infarction or stroke, in medical language) amongst those in their late thirties and forties have come to our attention. These have been someone in our family, friends as well as in celebrity singers, actors and sportspersons. This understandably has raised concern whether Covid-19 has increased the risk of heart attack.
While Covid-19 is known to be associated with some increase in the risk of various health conditions or the worsening of pre-existing health conditions, there is no evidence to support that Covid-19 alone is responsible for increased heart attacks. In the last two years, there has been an increase in stress and anxiety among people, which increases the stress on the heart and other organs of the body.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic began, in 2017, the Indian Council of Medical Research and other agencies in the report titled “India: The health of nation’s states” noted that there was a significant epidemiological change in the causes of deaths in India between 1990 and 2016. In 2016, non-communicable diseases had become the leading cause of death in India and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack, were the largest contributor.
We know that as life expectancy or longevity increases, the heart, liver, kidneys, blood vessels and other body parts start to weaken. In other countries, where life expectancy is high, such as Japan, non-communicable diseases are the biggest causes of deaths. In the last seven decades, the life expectancy in India has more than doubled from 32 years to around 69 years. With this, the non-communicable diseases are becoming a major cause of death.
In addition, the epidemiological evidence that emerged in the last many decades from global studies has pointed out that the Indian population (as well as South Asians) develops heart diseases when they are 10 years younger than Europeans and Americans, on an average. This is linked to genetic predisposition and dietary habits. As the Indian population is younger in comparison to other countries, more cases of heart attack are reported in younger age groups.
Risk of cardiovascular diseases in India further increased because of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets. Over the past few decades, as a result of junk food and a hectic lifestyle, about 20 per cent of the adult Indian population has high blood pressure, 10 per cent of adult Indians have diabetes and some have both. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the level of anxiety and mental stress.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made us once again aware of the importance of health. In such a situation, two traditional sayings are very relevant. One, ‘Pehla Sukh Nirogi Kaya’ or ‘healthy body is best asset/happiness’ and second that ‘Ilaaj Se Bachaav Behtar’ or ‘prevention is better than cure’.
To start with, there is no need to unnecessarily get concerned about reports of increasing incidents of heart attack. It is time to take stock of one’s health. Everyone needs to know the risk factors and danger signs of heart health and the process of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), which is a simple but life-saving intervention. In many countries in Europe and America, common people are trained in CPR.
The signs of heart attack include heaviness in the chest, excessive sweating, and pain in the left side of the chest which radiates towards the tip of the left shoulder. People who have had a heart attack say that they had never experienced or felt such pain or that the feeling was like someone was pressing their heart.
For suspected heart attack cases or persons who had heart attacks in the past, it is useful to be in regular touch with a physician. There are some medicines/tablets such as Sorbitrate, Disprin and Atorvastatin, which should be kept in an emergency kit, which if given in the right dose and at the right time can save a life. To ensure easy and timely access to these medicines, many societies and families keep these medicines ready in emergency kits. However, these medicines should be administered only on advice of a medical doctor. The only advantage of keeping these medicines at home or a shared space is that it will reduce the need for sourcing them at night or in an emergency once advised over phone by a doctor.
The heart attack — the stoppage of blood supply in any part of the heart — may result in cardiac attack or stoppage of functioning of the heart. This could be dangerous if it lasts for longer than two minutes. It is at this stage the CPR needs to be started, by any member or bystander. This can work wonders and the heart can start beating again.
There are a few other basic things people need to keep in mind. The person suspected to have a heart attack should not be made to walk or get physically exerted. He or she should be made to sit or lie on bed. Taking stairs or even walking up to an ambulance could be risky. People also play down heart attack with gas or acidity. The key difference is in the acidity, there is belching or feeling like vomiting and pain is often localised. Knowing the difference in symptoms, taking some interventions before reaching hospitals is lifesaving.
However, what is of top relevance is how to reduce our risk of heart attack. Regular exercise of around 30 minutes in a day or 150 minutes in a week is good for health. Balanced or ‘sattvik’ and timely meals; regular and adequate sleep of 8-9 hours, and social interactions keep a person physically and mentally healthy and prevent many diseases, including heart attack. Smoking should be stopped completely. The excessive use of alcohol is harmful to one’s health. If you have any health condition, including diabetes or hypertension, get it treated on time and regularly.
There is a deep connection between physical and mental health. The pandemic has made us aware of mental health. Just as we treat physical ailments, in the same way, consult a doctor for mental illnesses.
There is no scientific evidence that Covid-19 has increased risk of heart attack. However, it is a reminder that we must take care of heart health as well as overall individual and family health. To make a beginning, let’s start with focusing on heart health.