The world was stunned when footballer Christian Eriksen of Denmark suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during the Euro 2020 game against Finland. After all, cardiac arrest is not associated with elite athletes like Eriksen, then 28, who was in the prime of his life.
Closer home television star Sidharth Shukla and Southern Superstar Puneeth Rajkumar also succumbed to a sudden heart attack. Both Sidharth and Puneeth were health-conscious and super fit. The cases of Siddharth, Puneeth, and Christian are not isolated incidents.
Heart ailments among the seemingly health-conscious are quite common in India. Walk into the cardiology department of any hospital, and a substantial number of patients with heart ailments will be in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. Heart attacks are no longer an ageing disease. As per the Indian Heart Association, 25 per cent of all heart attacks in Indian men occur under the age of 40.
The reported rise in heart attacks, cardiac arrests and other heart ailments is happening at a time when more Indians, particularly Gen Z, are increasingly becoming health conscious. This paradox, on closer examination, shows that looking fit and feeling fit on the outside does not tantamount to being fit.
Young people these days, including the seemingly health conscious, suffer from several triggers that precipitate heart attacks including extreme stress, high blood pressure, cholesterol, poor and irregular eating habits, and insomnia among others. Smoking is another important trigger. Somehow there is a misconception that regularly hitting the gym can completely negate the effects of smoking, consumption of alcohol and unhealthy eating habits. Exercise is necessary but it is also important to curb smoking, drinking and poor food habits.
Another often ignored aspect is the long hours of sitting. Most young people are increasingly spending a lot of time sitting which can be very detrimental to their health. This is why sitting is categorised as the new smoking. Again, an hour of exercise a day will not help you overcome the detrimental effects of 8 to 10 hours of constant sitting. It is important to be intermittently active to overcome this long period of inactivity.
However, the biggest surprise of all when it comes to the health-conscious Gen Z is the almost zero understanding of the necessity of a regular health check-up. Given how prone Indians are to heart ailments (we have smaller coronary arteries than westerners), it makes sense to go for a regular health check-up. But the concept of a thorough annual health check is not something most young people in their 20s and 30s actively entertain.
Periodic health and screening tests will help forewarn us about any prospective ailment including those of the heart. It also helps us know if we are in the high-risk category for heart ailments. Often by the time we experience symptoms that point to heart problems, the disease has already reached the advanced stage.
Tests that measure Lipid Profile, Homocysteine, Lipoprotein, and High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) among others can correctly predict if one is at a higher risk of a heart attack. Take the Lipoprotein(a) test for example.
As per the Indian Heart Association, it is one of the most dangerous types of bad (LDL) cholesterol that can increase our risk for heart disease and stroke up to 100-fold. Elevated levels of lipoprotein(a) indicate a higher risk of heart disease and a regular test about the same can help us take preventive measures.
However, it is important to note that the test results need to be evaluated by an expert medical professional and read in conjugation with several other factors. These tests along with other common screeners like ECG, CT scan for coronary calcium, 2D echocardiogram, and stress test are advisable even if one is health conscious but is in the high-risk category.
Despite being fit, some people are genetically predisposed to have a narrow aortic valve, may have heart circulation anomalies (arteries of the heart arising from wrong sinuses), and electric irregularities, among others. Regular health checks, particularly those aimed at cardiac health, are of immense help under these circumstances.
Our understanding of fitness is often limited to getting the perfect body or slogging it out in the gym. Rarely is the emphasis put on annual health checks. This is why seemingly fit people succumbing to a heart attack shocks us beyond belief. Remember, sometimes a six-pack could be hiding a weak heart!