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Heart disease in Indian Women

Heart disease - The Greatest Killer of women in India

If you think that deaths among Indian women are mostly related to pregnancy and breast cancer, here’s a shocker. It is heart disease which is turning out be the greatest killer of women in India. In fact, cardiovascular disease is claiming more female lives in India than cancer, AIDS and malaria put together! While 53.1 per cent all heart disease related deaths across the world are of women, the mortality rate among Indian women is far higher compared to that among Whites, Blacks and Latinos. “The statistics are alarming. Women are more likely to die of heart disease as the portion of the affected heart muscle is likely to be greater in women.

And just like in Indian men, heart disease is spreading rapidly among young women between 30-35 years of age,” says Dr. Pratiksha, India’s first woman preventive cardiologist, who has successfully treated hundreds of heart patients at her IPC Heart Care Center in Mumbai.

Various studies over the years point to one major factor responsible for CVD (cardio-vascular disease) among both young men and women – work-related stress. “That is why, on the World Heart Day on September 26, the World Heart Federation is focusing on reducing the risk of heart diseases at the workplace,” says the doctor who is at the forefront of the Federation’s “I Work With Heart” campaign in India. According to Dr. Pratiksha, continued stress leads to gradual blockade of the coronary arteries due to cholesterol deposits, increasing the risk of CVD manifold.

Add to it the fact that the arteries of Indian women are narrower than men and the risk of death becomes even greater, the doctor points out. The factors leading to the sudden and rapid rise in CVD deaths among women appear to be similar to those in men - Night shifts and an increasing dependence on stimulants like tobacco and alcohol.

Experts say that urban women are increasingly consuming alcohol and smoking to cope with work and domestic pressures to deal with the stress of personal and professional life. A study showed that the number of women smokers in India has doubled over the past few decades. “The stress levels among women are far higher as they have to face both work and domestic pressures. A woman is expected to excel in the office as well as at home.

This often makes them addicted to harmful stimulants, which only increase the risk of CVD among them,” Dr. Pratiksha says. In addition, the doctor says, women hardly pay attention to their own health. “For most women, especially in India, the family is the priority. They will accompany their children or husband or in-laws to the doctor, but they won’t get their own check-up done,” she rues.

Add to that a sedentary lifestyle, little or no consumption of nutritious food, increasing weight and the high levels of diabetes among women, and it is evident why the CVD has become a killer disease. The fortunate thing is that around 80 per cent of heart diseases are completely preventable, only if people become a little careful about their lifestyles. “To prevent the disease, it is important to understand why and how it occurs. Very few are aware that arteries start to get blocked at a young age. And the only way one can stop this process through preventive cardiology which includes a drastic and healthy change in lifestyle,” Dr. Pratiksha explains.

That is precisely the message that the World Heart Federation intends to spread on the World Heart Day. “Women can reduce the risk of heart disease substantially in just a few simple steps,” Dr. Pratiksha reveals. “When at work, they should reduce their dependence on stimulants like coffee, cigarettes and alcohol and junk food.

They should replace this with an   increased consumption of fruits and vegetables,” she asserts. Taking short breaks in between work can go a long way in reducing stress levels. Short, simple exercises also help the mind and body relax, she says. Keeping an eye on your blood pressure levels is also a very important preventive measure against heart disease, according to her.

Other effective ways to combat high stress are music, meditation and certain yoga exercises. “There is a high incidence of diabetes among Indian women. So they need to undergo regular medical check-ups to ensure that their sugar levels are in control. Diabetes is the single biggest factor leading to heart disease in India,” Dr. Pratiksha cautions. “Although the statistics related to heart disease in women are scary, the preventive measures mentioned above can surely help them lead a healthy life,” she concludes. Well, as they say, the doctor knows best.


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