By Dr Viveka Kumar
From the time the first Coronavirus case was recorded in China, to India’s numbers crossing four million, COVID-19 has millions of lives under its ambit. Now, for a country like India, where the cardiovascular disease burden is already at an alarming high, these are threatening facts. Moreover, pandemic-induced lockdowns have also raised stress levels which can induce heart related ailments.
On this World Heart Day, here are some thoughts by Dr Viveka Kumar on the importance of understanding cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), what they mean today, how we can protect ourselves, and the technologies that help us significantly improve patient outcomes.
A Closer Look at Heart Diseases
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “CVDs are the number one cause of death globally: more people die annually from CVDs than from any other cause. In 2016, CVDs took approximately 17.9 million lives, out of which 85 percent were due to stroke and heart attack.” Now, let’s understand what CVDs constitute. CVDs are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels. According to statistics, four out of five deaths caused by CVDs happen due to strokes or heart attacks.
The most common cause of heart attacks and strokes is a sedentary lifestyle. Alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are contributing factors. Heart attacks and strokes are also caused due to a blockage that interferes with the blood flowing to the brain or heart. These blockages are caused by the build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of blood vessels that carry blood to the two organs. In some cases, internal bleeding in the brain or blood clots can also cause strokes.
Fighting Against the CVD Burden
The simplest way to tackle the CVD burden is to create awareness about its most common symptoms and not ignoring them. For instance, keep a check on your diabetes levels, cholesterol intake, watch out for symptoms like frequent chest pain, irregular heartbeat, pain in the elbows, left shoulder, or discomfort in the arms or back. The most common symptoms of a stroke are numbness in arms or legs, especially on one side of the body, dizziness, difficulty in speaking, loss of balance, or severe headache with an unknown cause.
Since these are common symptoms that are often ignored by patients, it is advisable to consult a doctor if they are regular. Taking measures like maintaining proper weight, keeping regular check on diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure at home is imperative, but we must not forget the importance of regular health check-ups. If you have symptoms of diabetes, your doctor will likely test your blood sugar level. If you have any conditions that put you at risk of heart disease, manage them with lifestyle changes and medications.
However, in extreme cases, where a patient feels their medications are not just enough to treat the ailment so in these cases patients may require a stent to unclog a blocked artery.
The Breakthroughs in Heartcare
What’s interesting is the way technology has transformed the treatment of blocked arteries. For the longest time, we have relied on drug-eluting stents (DES) and bare-metal stents to treat blocked arteries. Over the years, the quality of these stents has improved substantially. The latest generation platinum chromium stents have smaller profiles, thinner struts and clinical data of more than 10000 patients which help in good procedural outcomes for the patients.
An important thing to understand here is that the pandemic is far from waning and health situations like these will continue to exist for as long as humans live on the planet. For better healthcare situations and heart healthy lives we need is to prepare for smarter tools and technologies.
(The author is Dr Viveka Kumar, principal director of cardiac sciences and chief of Cath Labs Pan Max Healthcare)