Once upon a time, prevention was said to be better than cure. Today, prevention is the cure

Statistics across the world reveal that heart attacks are as common in women as in men. Changing lifestyles, use of tobacco and alcohol and stress put both genders at risk.

India boasts of a large young population but their hearts seem to be unfortunately are aging faster. Geetha Subramanian, emeritus professor of cardiology, Dr. MGR Medical University, tells me that 30 per cent of the heart attacks occur in young people and this includes women. According to her, the incidence of heart attacks in men, when compared to women, is 5:2. “It is often believed that only women over the age of 65 are prone to heart attacks,” she tells me, “unfortunately, that is not true any more because there has been a total change of lifestyle. Women are energy efficient and require lesser quantity of food. But even they are given to overeating. The changing work cultures have added to their stress, not to forget loneliness in the case of divorced or single women.”

Forty years ago more young girls suffered from rheumatic heart disease which was caused by lack of nutrition. Today, heart disease is common among the younger generation of women, and this is largely due to smoking, consumption of alcohol and drugs and long hours at work (which can mean less physical activity). Stress and lack of exercise can also lead to diabetes and hypertension — which in turn lead to a variety of other diseases.

“Heart attacks in women often masquerade as gastritis and they tend to ignore it. She might drink soda and forget about it. While men make it within the golden hour, women usually delay in seeking medical help by at least 24 hours,” says the specialist. Such women, she says, usually complain about general fatigue and feeling “rundown”. “Across the world women get second-hand treatment as they themselves are unaware of their problem. In the 20th century we said prevention is better than cure, but in this century I would say prevention is the cure,” says Dr. Geetha.

For effective prevention, it is necessary to be aware about your health and food habits. Physician M. Madhubashini believes that every woman must know the nutritional quotient of each meal she consumes. Consuming sufficient amounts of iron-rich food (such as greens) and checking for thyroid function would provide her nutrients that would also prepare her for a healthy motherhood.

If nature prepares a woman for pregnancy during the teens, efforts are necessary to ensure that she receives the required care well before the event. According to gynaecologist N. Hepzibah Kirubamani, getting vaccinated against common diseases such as chickenpox and rubella, undergoing therapy for iron deficiency and checking for poor thyroid functions during the teens eliminates unpleasant surprises later in life. As women are opting for pregnancy at an older age, they should be aware that they need pre-pregnancy counselling to understand the associated risks. Besides telling them about risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity, it is important to inform them about screening for chromosomal anomalies. “It depends on the woman either to continue or discontinue the pregnancy. We also have women with cardiac conditions becoming pregnant,” says Dr. Hepzibah, “The woman must be educated about the risks she faces.”

R. Sujatha writes on health for The Hindu and enjoys covering the crime beat occasionally.

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