THE 2022 World Heart Day theme—‘Use Heart For Every Heart’—has prompted experts to suggest that Kashmir needs to regulate stress, substance abuse and sedentary lifestyle to counter the rapid rate of cardiac arrests.
“There’s an exponential surge in the number of heart attack cases in Kashmir in recent times,” Dr. Irfan A. Bhat, Kashmir’s renowned cardiologist said. “Since 2019, the rate of such cases has doubled to what it was three years ago.”
Till 2018, the health specialist said, Srinagar’s SMHS and SKIMS hospital were handling 4-5 heart attack patients daily in the summer and fall months. “However, that trend has changed now,” Dr. Irfan said. “Today, the number of such cases has grown to 10-15 patients per day. And due to lack of awareness, many patients are still ignoring the early symptoms of an attack, which if not treated at an appropriate time, can lead to a permanent heart damage. This is an alarming trend.”
In addition to smoking and drug abuse, the cardiologist blamed late nights, competitions, deadlines, lack of recreation, ultra-processed food for contributing to this fatal wave.
Dr. Irfan, who’s a core member of ‘save heart initiative’ that handles cardiac emergencies virtually and saves hundreds of lives every year, said that people’s first priority should be their heart-health “as there is no going back if it is damaged”.
In an exclusive interview with Kashmir Observer, Dr. Irfan explains what needs to be done to contain the fatal heart wave.
How prone is Kashmir to heart attacks?
Well, there’s an exponential surge in the number of heart attack cases in Kashmir in recent times. Since 2019, the rate of such cases has doubled to what it was three years ago. Till 2018, Srinagar’s SMHS and SKIMS hospital were handling 4-5 heart attack patients daily in the summer and fall months. However, that trend has changed now. Today, the number of such cases has grown to 10-15 patients per day. And due to lack of awareness, many patients are still ignoring the early symptoms of an attack, which if not treated at an appropriate time, can lead to a permanent heart damage. This is an alarming trend.
What’re the specific factors contributing to this fatal wave?
Rapid urbanization and newly adopted fast-life are some of its contributing factors. But this is a global phenomenon and Kashmir can’t be seen in isolation. Most of Kashmir’s villages have adopted the urban lifestyle. More comfortable life means more threat to the heart. Among the obvious changes, city life has less physical activity posing threat to our heart. At the same time, our life has become very competitive now. Late nights, sedentary life, stress of competition, deadlines, no time for relaxation, processed and ultra-processed food and fast food have all become a norm. And that goes along with the fact that there is less time for exercise and less time for your own stuff. In addition to that, smoking and drug abuse have also contributed to this fatal wave.
How much is situational stress and lifestyle responsible for this fatality?
One important reason attributed to the spike in heart ailments is stress. Even a global intra-heart survey suggests that psycho-social stress could raise your risk of heart attack and stroke. It’s quite evident in Kashmir that acute exposure to stress has increased initiation and escalation of drug use and smoking among our people, especially youngsters. Underlying diseases such as hypertension and diabetes when exposed to stress can easily increase the risks manifold. Fifty percent of heart-attack patients that we receive have a history of stress varying from financial stress to unemployment stress to situational stress. And our new lifestyle choices have also exposed us to such fatal attacks. We’ve a very sedentary lifestyle, which increases our obesity, subsequently exposing us to such attacks. Sweet dishes, carbonated drinks and bakery items act as a poison and expose the heart to fatal risks.
Which age group is vulnerable to such attacks and why?
I would say people over 60 years are more vulnerable to heart attacks. On an average, this age-group has absolutely no physical activity which makes them vulnerable. Another reason is that the elderly people with underlying cardiovascular and diabetic conditions are prone to these attacks especially in winters. We consider it a matter of pride if our elders use cars to travel around but we’ve to understand that less physical activity increases the threat to their heart. But, this doesn’t mean that youngsters are not vulnerable. They may call themselves young but their heart has already grown old due to various factors. Their vascular age also rapidly increases which also surges the risk of fatal attacks.
Since young are increasingly falling prey to heart attacks, what needs to be done?
We have to change our lifestyle starting exactly from adding physical activity in our day to day schedule. We’ve to be physically very active. We’ve to contain smoking and drug abuse in our population. The tribe of smokers has also seen a rapid surge in recent years which is extremely worrying. And our youth believes in shortcut methods to achieve their goals. That needs to end. See, if someone has worked for 12 years, earns a lucrative salary and owns an expensive car, we tend to achieve the same status in just 2 or 3 years. And when we fail, stress pushes us into drugs and cigarettes which increases risk of heart attacks. So, all these things have to be implemented for a safe and secure life.
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