The sudden death of Environment minister Anil Dave at the age of 60 and Bollywood actress Reema Lagoo at 59 has sparked concern about silent heart attacks that often strike without a warning. There was nothing to indicate that Dave — who was at a meeting with Prime Minister Modi till late Wednesday night — had a serious heart problem, just as Lagoo’s family said she had seemingly no health issues.
Doctors, however, said that while life expectancy among Indians had increased, people were falling prey to sudden heart attacks at a younger age. “Around 50% of Indians under 55 years suffer from heart attacks while 25% of all heart attacks occur under the age of 40. So this calls for introspection and making necessary lifestyle changes,” says Dr Sandeep Mishra, cardiologist at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
Though the minister and the actor — both active till the end — did not face problems related to leading a sedentary life, doctors warned that lack of exercise led to diseases such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension, which were some of the common risk factors behind a heart attack. Tobacco added to the risk, they warn. “We have been able to bring the mortality rate due to infectious diseases under control, but deaths due to lifestyle diseases are on the rise,” Dr Mishra says.
Recent study results suggest that men and women were equally at risk, he adds, though earlier surveys had shown that men were more prone to heart attacks than women.
The problem with a silent heart attack was that it often seemed like a simple case of acidity or indigestion. A doctor at Safdarjung said that many people who experienced pain in the chest confused it with gastritis or similar problems and did not seek immediate medical help. “In such cases, the diagnosis is delayed,” the doctor said.
According to Dr JPS Sawhney, chairman of the department of cardiology at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, people in India with heart diseases or who suffered an attack were on an average 8-10 years younger than those with similar problems in the West. “Heart attacks occur without warning in 50% of the cases. The death rate in those who reach a hospital and get modern treatment is five per cent,” Dr Sawhney says.
The doctors add that one of important causes of premature heart attacks in India was familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic condition that led to high cholesterol. “In a recent study at our hospital, familial hypercholesterolemia was found to be the cause of pre-mature heart attacks in around 25% of younger patients,” Dr Mishra says.
According to doctors, lifestyle modifications and controlling risk factors could help prevent this condition. Physical activity, a good diet and not taking stress or smoking were some of the factors that could help people ward off heart problems. According to the World Health Organisation, non- communicable diseases (NCDs) or chronic diseases such as cancer, heart ailments, respiratory diseases and diabetes kill 38 million people globally every year. Over 20% of the India’s population suffers from at least one of the NCDs, which would cost India an estimated USD 6.2 trillion from 2012 to 2030, a government report said.
Of the estimated 98.16 lakh deaths in India in 2014, NCDs accounted for 60%, or 58.6 lakh deaths.