Dr. Jayanta Kumar Gogoi
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the primary cause of death worldwide.
In 2022, CVDs accounted for 32% of all global deaths, with 20 million fatalities. Heart attacks and strokes contributed to 80% of these deaths. The majority (over three-quarters) of CVD deaths occur in low- and middle-income nations like India.
Almost 70% of these cardiovascular diseases are preventable. Therefore, early detection of CVDs is crucial for effective management through counselling and medication.
CVDs encompass a range of disorders affecting the heart and blood vessels. These include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral arterial disease, rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease, and conditions like deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Heart attacks and strokes are often acute events. A heart attack occurs when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle, become narrowed or completely blocked due to a buildup of plaque (cholesterol-like substances). A stroke is basically a brain attack. A stroke happens when blood flow to a part of the brain is cut off, either by a clot (ischemic stroke) or a burst blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke).
What are the risk factors for CVD?
The primary behavioural risk factors for CVDs include an unhealthy diet, a lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and harmful alcohol consumption. These behaviours can lead to increased blood pressure, blood glucose, blood lipids, and obesity, elevating the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other complications. Adopting healthier lifestyles, such as quitting tobacco, reducing salt intake, consuming more fruits and vegetables, and regular exercise, can significantly lower CVD risks by 70%. Apart from these, there are non-modifiable risk factors like age, gender, family history, and ethnicity that can influence one’s risk of developing CVDs.
Often, CVDs might not present any symptoms until a heart attack or stroke occurs. Common symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, discomfort in the arms, shoulders, elbows, jaw, or back, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, and lightheadedness. Strokes manifest as sudden weakness, numbness, confusion, vision problems, dizziness, severe headaches, and fainting.
Prevention and leading a heart-healthy life:
Diet: Adopt a balanced diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables. Limit intake of saturated fats, transfats, salt, and sugars.
Physical Activity: Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. This can be broken down into 30-minute sessions, five times a week.
Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol
Manage stress: Chronic stress may contribute to heart disease. Find healthy ways to cope, such as through meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
Maintain a Healthy Weight: Being overweight increases the risk of CVDs, especially if you carry excess weight around your abdomen.
Reducing the CVD Burden:
In low- and middle-income countries like India, the CVD death rate is high compared to developed countries, where over three-quarters of CVD deaths occur. This is because of a lack of primary health care programmes for early CVD detection and treatment. Consequently, many individuals are diagnosed late, leading to premature deaths.
On this World Heart Day, let’s pledge to prioritise our heart health. By understanding the common cardiovascular diseases and their risk factors, we can take proactive steps to lead a heart-healthy life. Remember, every small change you make towards a healthier lifestyle can have a profound impact on your heart’s well-being. Let’s make every heartbeat count!