September 29th is celebrated globally as World Heart Day, and this occasion is used to raise awareness about cardiovascular conditions that are responsible for over half of all the non-communicable diseases in the world. The World Heart Federation announced the annual observance of this day in collaboration with the World Health Organization in 1999. World Heart Day informs people about cardiovascular disease (CVD) including heart disease and stroke, which are the world’s leading causes of death, claiming 18.6 million lives each year; spreading awareness about preventive measures is another aim. It aims at educating people to have a healthy heart by controlling risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity, at least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided.
A global aim to raise awareness
World Heart Day is a global campaign with a different theme each year, during which individuals, families, communities, and governments around the world participate in activities to improve heart health and spread awareness. Through this campaign, the World Heart Federation unites people from all countries and backgrounds in the fight against the CVD burden and inspires and drives international action to encourage heart-healthy living across the world. The theme this year is ‘Use Heart For Every Heart’ which encourages individuals to make this campaign more personal and impactful with their activities for the people suffering from this condition.
Cardiovascular conditions and risk factors
The heart is the strongest muscle of the human body and is literally the size of one’s fist! Although impressive, our body is vulnerable to cardiovascular conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels leading to coronary heart diseases and cerebrovascular diseases commonly known as heart attack and stroke respectively. habitual risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, or a sedentary lifestyle contribute to heart attack and stroke.
The most common risk factors for CVD are high BP, diabetes, poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking, and can be considered modifiable factors. A cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes is known as Syndrome X or Metabolic Syndrome.
The World Heart Federation highlights four main risk factors:
» Diabetes - Uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes is responsible for the development of cardiovascular conditions. Uncontrolled Diabetes ends up damaging blood vessels and nerves and is indeed known as the ‘Silent Killer’ by making diabetic patients at heightened risk of CVD making the prevention of CVD onset a major priority.
» Physical Inactivity - Daily 30 mins of physical activity is essential for keeping metabolic diseases at bay. Lack of physical exercise is often seen as a result of a sedentary lifestyle which is common in the urban population.
» Cholesterol - A diet rich in calories rather than nutrients is a core reason for high blood cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol deposits into arteries often cause narrowing and blocking of blood flow, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
» Tobacco - Tobacco consumption damages blood vessels, elevates blood pressure for a short while, and is responsible for reduced exercise tolerance. All of these contribute to poor health in the long run, and regular use leads to lung diseases, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Covid 19 and Heart Health
At the beginning of 2020, when a novel coronavirus with potentially severe consequences emerged, the race was on to learn everything about it. Before long, and with so much still to be discovered, an unfortunate trend emerged: COVID-19 posed a particular risk to patients with underlying issues such as heart disease, which was already a leading cause of death globally. This situation also led to a worrying trend that heart patients, who would usually seek routine care or need to access emergency services for non-COVID-related issues, were avoiding hospitals and doctors.
(Dr Jayesh Bhaskaran is HOD & Senior Consultant, Centre for Heart & Vascular Care, Meitra Hospital, Kozhikode)