Thursday, August 1, 2019

Are you young at heart?

This is my article as it was published in the Times of India. 

You may have smooth unwrinkled skin but do you have that spring in your step that carries you easily up a flight of stairs? If you don't, then you may be young in years, but not in your heart.

"The process of blockage of arteries starts at birth, but the speed at which happens depends a great deal on our energy expenditure, besides the genes and diet," says Dr Shantesh Kaushik, cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon.

Two major aspects determine the age of the heart:
the health of the arteries and the health of the heart muscle. If you don't move, your heart muscles become flabby. And arteries start getting blocked. You could be just 30, in the prime of your life, but your heart could have aged. Such a heart won't pump sufficient blood and through it, life-giving oxygen. Everything will be fine until one day your heart can't take the load anymore.

Dr A V Ganesh Kumar, chief interventional cardiologist, Hiranandani Hospital says, "The heart has to pump more blood during exertion or some emotional upset, and this can cause a heart attack.' There may be no warning signs before this, as arteries get blocked gradually.

'If the patient has breathlessness and fatigue, these are signs that it's already late, that the blockage has progressed to an advanced stage," says Dr Kaushik.

Lower blockages are common amongst younger people who have heart attacks. 

"Studies show that Indians living abroad suffer from a greater incidence of heart disease than the local population," says Dr Ganesh Kumar. He feels that while lack of exercise could be a factor, the fried food we eat also has an effect. Genetic factors are also present. “There are also indications that our arteries are narrower,” he adds, although more research is being done in this area. However there is no doubt that there is something in the genetic make-up of Indians that make them prone to heart disease. Dr Kaushik believes that 'a shortage of food in the past has genetically programmed Indians to store fat more efficiently than other races.'

The patient who survives a heart attack in time to reach the hospital and gets quick intervention is lucky, because effective treatment needs to be given within three-six hours. "Otherwise the heart tissue can be damaged permanently," says Dr Ganesh Kumar. Damaged heart tissue means a restricted life, akin to living like an old person.

So worry less about that line on your forehead that tells you that 30 is just round the corner, and worry a lot if your body suggests that your heart has touched 40, or maybe 50. You might be able to fix that wrinkle, but fixing a heart means undergoing procedures like angioplasty, by-pass surgery or even an organ transplant. If you're lucky.

Published in The Economic Times  (link to original article)
24 Sep 2006
By Nita Jatar Kulkarni

(The photo is a free photo from Pixabay)

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