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Dealing With the Heart Disease Epidemic

The global average age for heart failure has dropped from 55 to 50 (for males) with risk factors such as stress, unhealthy dietary habits, smoking, alcohol consumption, hypertension and diabetes becoming more prevalent among urban dwellers.

Heart disease is on the rise and its incidence in India has more than tripled over the last decade or so. There are more than 200 stroke cases reported in the country every day, of which 32 per cent are fatal. Between 2007 and 2017, CVDs grew at an alarming 9.5 per cent per year, making them the non-communicable disease with the largest number of patients in India, second only to mental illness. Together, CVDs and stroke were responsible for more than 28% of deaths in the country. CVD is a term used for a wide range of ailments affecting the structure and function of the heart. Some of these include coronary artery disease; abnormalities such as arrhythmias; heart valve diseases; cardiomyopathy; pericardial diseases; heart attack and failure; and vascular ailments.

What is even more disturbing is the fact that CVDs are striking early. The country is significantly losing its productive workforce with 25 per cent of heart patients belonging to the age group of 25-69. The global average age for heart failure has dropped from 55 to 50 (for males) with risk factors such as stress, unhealthy dietary habits, smoking, alcohol consumption, hypertension and diabetes becoming more prevalent among urban dwellers.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Stress and lack of exercise are two major risk factors for CVDs, especially among the urban population. Aberrant lifestyle and hectic work schedules leave people living in cities with very little or no time for physical activity. This makes otherwise healthy-looking, young adults are prone to heart diseases at some point in their lifetime. Diabetes is a major contributing factor as well.

Most CVDs can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle, beginning at a young age. With growing awareness, a large percentage of millennials are taking this responsibility upon themselves so as to reduce disease burden at a later stage. About 80 per cent to 90 per cent of premature deaths due to CVDscan be prevented6through healthy living, regular screening and timely medical intervention. Some of the checkpoints in this process are keeping blood pressure and blood sugar under control, undertaking some form of physical exercise for at least 30 to 60 minutes per day, eating healthy food at regular hours everyday, consuming more of whole grains, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on alcohol, smoking and processed foods that are high in salt, sugar and trans fats. It is also recommended that people undergo regular, age-appropriate screening at least annually so that CVDs can be detected at an early stage.

Role of technology in the healthcare sector

The onus of holistic wellbeing of an individual lies equally upon all stakeholders of the healthcare sector. While doctors need to create awareness among their patients in order to inculcate healthy lifestyle practices and promote self-management, the healthcare sector now needs to focus more on preventive care along with effective treatment and efficient disease management. A recent study revealed that more than 75 per cent of hypertensive Indians did not know they had high blood pressure (a high-risk factor for CVDs).7 This indicates that while lack of awareness is a matter of concern, effective monitoring and diagnostic infrastructure is also needed at the grassroots level so that more people can be brought under the surveillance system.

Preventive care is critical as based on facts doctors can advise patients about impending health problems. Research and analysis must be promoted so that data can be effectively used to study disease prevalence and introduce innovative preventive care technologies. The healthcare sector needs to work hand-in-hand with the corporate and insurance sectors also so that effective employee wellness programmes can be formulated and incentivized.

Healthtech start-ups like Agatsaare already bringing in innovative technologies that can help improve diagnostics as well as monitoring of CVDs. However, in order to enable technological innovations to percolate to a larger population, there is a need for a collaborative effort from the healthcare sector along with other stakeholders. The industry needs to encourage local technologies such as affordable home-based ECGs machines, low-cost wearables, chips and polypills that can effectively address patient care concerns at the apex.

In conclusion

India is faced with a non-communicable disease burden which will soon turn into an epidemic if not addressed with urgency. Of this, CVDs needs immediate attention. Apart from creating awareness about the disease, there is a need to build a strong infrastructural foundation in the healthcare segment that can address the growing problem effectively. Besides addressing the acute shortage of healthcare providers and centres, India needs to build an effective technological base that can help deliver efficient and affordable healthcare to the remotest of areas. With a growing homecare segment, technology is finding effective routes to make deep inroads so that CVDs and other non-communicable diseases can be prevented from transforming into great pandemics.



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