When actress Sushmita Sen took to Instagram to reveal that she had suffered a massive heart attack, she shocked her fans and industry friends. Despite an active lifestyle, the 47-year-old girl had 95 percent blockage in her main artery and had to undergo angioplasty.
Such cases of relatively young people suffering from sudden and silent heart attacks with no apparent underlying cause are only increasing in number. While unhealthy lifestyles, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking and genetics are some of the known culprits, research and anecdotal evidence now point to a new entrant – Covid-19 and its long-term effects on the heart.
According to a 2022 study by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, heart attack deaths have become more common in the U.S. across all age groups since Covid-19. In the first two years of the epidemic, people aged 25 to 44 years saw a 29.9% increase in deaths from heart attacks.
Even closer to home, doctors have made similar observations. Cardiologist and senior consultant of Sir Gangaram Hospital, Dr. Moshin Wali says, “The number of young people suffering from heart attacks has increased by 20 percent after Covid-19. This is due to covid-resulting clotting. ” Adding to this, Dr Gajinder Kumar Goyal, Director of Cardiology, Marengo Asia Hospital, explains, “Covid-19 has been shown to cause plaque rupture in coronary arteries and damage to the heart muscle.” Pandemic-induced work-from-home stress, sedentary lifestyles and obesity are additional factors.
Young Indians increasingly at risk
Heart attacks, among Indians, can occur at least a decade earlier than their Western counterparts. Experts say, earlier the average age of patients was 55 to 65 years. But now patients in their 20s and 30s are suffering from myocardial infarction,” says Dr Vishal Rastogi, Director, Interventional Cardiology and Head, Advanced Heart Failure. Program, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.
A heart attack in a young person is often mistaken for acidity or muscle pain. This is worrying, says Dr Rastogi, because heart attacks in young people can be more devastating because their hearts are not prepared for this sudden block and have no natural collateral channels.
“Warning signs such as pain or heaviness in the middle of the chest, pain in the jaw, left arm or upper abdomen and cold sweats should not be ignored,” says Dr Rastogi.
Is excessive exercise to blame?
While Sen credits regular exercise as helping prevent heart attacks, experts say moderation is key. “During the pandemic many people have become health conscious and started exercising more. They may have unknown blocks, which manifest as heart attacks when they exercise. Before hitting the gym, people should get their heart checked to see if they can tolerate heavy exercise,” advises Dr Rastogi.
Underlying factors such as diabetes or high blood pressure that may lead to an overexercise heart attack should be evaluated. Dr Sanjeev Gera, director of cardiology, Fortis Hospital, adds, “Those who have been immobilized for long periods should get an exercise prescription before setting up an exercise routine.” He recommends starting with walking and cardio before moving on to weight training.
A heart-friendly diet
A diet low in carbohydrates and fat and rich in fiber and minerals is recommended. “A heart-friendly diet includes complex carbohydrates with four to five servings of fruits, shallow-cooked vegetables, and a reduction in processed and frozen foods. Alcohol and tobacco consumption should be minimized at all costs,” says Dr. Gera.
The survivors speak
Lakhan (Age: 29)
It was a regular day when businessman Lakhan left for work in the morning. “Upon reaching there, I felt a sudden chest pain and sought help. The doctors diagnosed a blocked artery due to a heart attack,” says Lakhan, who doesn’t drink or smoke. “Genes could be a factor,” he says. With a stunt, Lakhan “I thought heart attacks only happened to old people. The diagnosis shocked me,” he says.
Rajesh (Age: 42)
Just last month, Rajesh Thopil, who was working as a nurse, suddenly felt an excruciating pain in his chest while sitting at home. He responded immediately and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors treated him for cardiac arrest. “Please wait and reach for help without wasting a minute. It could save your life,” says Thoppil, who wonders if sudden cardiac arrest in 2021 is related to the contraction of Covid-19. Eat salty, sugary or fried foods and go for walks and stay away from stress,” he said.
Yoga for your heart
Breathing Exercises: One can practice tiger breathing and knee stretching breathing. Asana: Tadasana, Ardhakati Chakrasana, Vrikshasana, Bhujangasana, Vakrasana Relaxation: Savasana or deep relaxation technique
Asanas to avoid this
Those with underlying heart conditions should avoid jerky movements, relaxation exercises (slowing down exercises), shalvasana (locust pose), dhanurasana (bow pose). When doing padasana (forward bend) only go up to 90 degrees. Do not let your head go below your chest.
Input by Gaurav Chauhan, Yoga Protocol Instructor