Heart Attack, The Two Words We All Fear, Explained

What happens during a heart attack? And what can you do to keep your heart healthy?

Updated
Heart
4 min read
Let’s breakdown what heart attacks are, how do they happen, to whom they can happen to, and what should you do to prevent it.
i
Snapshot

“It almost gave me a heart attack.” These last two words are synonymous with fear in our vocabulary. With 1.7 million lives lost to heart disease in India every year, it is the leading cause of death. The numbers include lives lost specifically to heart attacks.

A global study, published in The Lancet, claimed that the mortality of heart patients is the highest in Indians. In fact, Indians get a heart attack 8-10 years earlier than any other ethnic group. Doctors have repeatedly insisted that we, as Indians, are predisposed to heart disease.

So, let’s breakdown what heart attacks are, how they happen, to whom they can happen, and what should you do to prevent it.

Heart Attack, The Two Words We All Fear, Explained

  1. 1. What Is a Heart Attack?

    Let’s go on a trip down biology class. One basic thing our heart muscle needs to survive is oxygen. A heart attack occurs, when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle, is severely reduced or cut off completely.

    This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow can slowly become narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances.

    Too caught up to read? Listen to the story here:

    But what causes this build up? Your soda drinks, take-out food and evening oily samosas are to blame. Couple that with zero to little physical exercise and you’ve got the perfect recipe for heart disease.

    When the heart muscle is starved of oxygen and nutrients, it is called ischemia. When damage or death of part of the heart muscle occurs as a result of ischemia, it is called a heart attack.

    Expand
  2. 2. Symptoms of Heart Attack You Should Look Out For

    Although some heart attacks are sudden and intense, most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort.

    In case of a heart attack, it has been seen that the lack of knowledge often causes a delay in handling the situation, which could aggravate the damage and in some cases prove to be fatal.
    Indians are predisposed to heart disease.
    Indians are predisposed to heart disease.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    So identifying the early symptoms of heart attack is very essential.

    Pay attention to your body — and call for help if you feel:

    • Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
    • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
    • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
    • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness, back or jaw pain.

    Remember the signs, but even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, act fast and have it checked out.

    Expand
  3. 3. Can the Young and Healthy Suffer a Heart Attack Too?

    According to the Indian Heart Association (IHA), 50 percent of all heart attacks in Indians occur under 50 years of age and 25 percent occur under 40 years of age.

    So no, senior citizens are no longer the only faces of heart attacks. Your average person in 20s or 30s is right there giving company.

    In fact, heart attack can occur even without a history of cardiac issues and to seemingly healthy people as well. Blockage in arteries can go undetected and may start showing symptoms only when it is at 80-90 percent. 25 percent of people, even after having significant and severe blockages, do not experience any discomfort.

    Over the last 20 years, we have observed heart disease affect, on an average, 10 years younger people. Nowadays, it’s no surprise for us when people in their 20s or 30s come in with a heart problem. Also, in women, it has grown by 300 percent in the last three decades.
    Dr Ashok Seth, Head of Cardiology, Fortis Hospitals

    Dr Seth adds that our poor lifestyle is triggering this, and if this continues the future looks even more bleak.

    The problem with us young Indians is that we’re aloof when it comes to our health, the word exercise is alien to us, and stress is our best friend. Smoking and eating unhealthy isn’t helping either.

    The IHA also reports that the population living in cities are three times more prone to heart attacks than people living in villages.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Precautions Should You Take?

    Yes, Indians are at a higher risk, but it’s not like heart problems are unavoidable. In order to avoid it, we need to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Follow these tips by Dr Ashok Seth to protect yourselves.

    1. Understand the risk factors for heart disease that can be avoided: like smoking, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and high blood pressure and work towards removing them.
    2. Take regular walks. Exercising doesn’t mean body building and excessive workouts. In fact, body building and the supplements you take with it can be harmful. Exercise for heart health means brisk walking for 45 minutes.
    3. Develop a work-life balance and deal with stress. Take time out of your stressful life to spend time with family, for indulging in your hobbies and relaxation.
    4. Get regular check ups for your cardiac health.
    5. Be proactive rather than reactive. Don’t wait for the disease to strike and only then start taking precautions. Develop healthy habits from an early age.

    The genetic impact and family history, however, cannot be avoided. Those with family history of heart disease need to go for frequent health check-ups.

    Expand
  5. 5. How to Help Someone Having a Heart Attack

    Heart attack can be very sudden and it can hit anyone, at any time. But we need to be prepared and know the warning signs.

    If anyone around you is having a heart attack, the first thing you should do is call for help. That’s the best way to handle the situation.

    One can give an aspirin to the person having a heart attack if you recognise the signs. What that does is thin the blood so the flow to the heart is easier.

    The best way forward is to be aware of our situation, understand the problem and proactively work towards prevention.

    (Subscribe to FIT on Telegram)

    Expand

What Is a Heart Attack?

Let’s go on a trip down biology class. One basic thing our heart muscle needs to survive is oxygen. A heart attack occurs, when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle, is severely reduced or cut off completely.

This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow can slowly become narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances.

Too caught up to read? Listen to the story here:

But what causes this build up? Your soda drinks, take-out food and evening oily samosas are to blame. Couple that with zero to little physical exercise and you’ve got the perfect recipe for heart disease.

When the heart muscle is starved of oxygen and nutrients, it is called ischemia. When damage or death of part of the heart muscle occurs as a result of ischemia, it is called a heart attack.

Symptoms of Heart Attack You Should Look Out For

Although some heart attacks are sudden and intense, most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort.

In case of a heart attack, it has been seen that the lack of knowledge often causes a delay in handling the situation, which could aggravate the damage and in some cases prove to be fatal.
Indians are predisposed to heart disease.
Indians are predisposed to heart disease.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

So identifying the early symptoms of heart attack is very essential.

Pay attention to your body — and call for help if you feel:

  • Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness, back or jaw pain.

Remember the signs, but even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, act fast and have it checked out.

Can the Young and Healthy Suffer a Heart Attack Too?

According to the Indian Heart Association (IHA), 50 percent of all heart attacks in Indians occur under 50 years of age and 25 percent occur under 40 years of age.

So no, senior citizens are no longer the only faces of heart attacks. Your average person in 20s or 30s is right there giving company.

In fact, heart attack can occur even without a history of cardiac issues and to seemingly healthy people as well. Blockage in arteries can go undetected and may start showing symptoms only when it is at 80-90 percent. 25 percent of people, even after having significant and severe blockages, do not experience any discomfort.

Over the last 20 years, we have observed heart disease affect, on an average, 10 years younger people. Nowadays, it’s no surprise for us when people in their 20s or 30s come in with a heart problem. Also, in women, it has grown by 300 percent in the last three decades.
Dr Ashok Seth, Head of Cardiology, Fortis Hospitals

Dr Seth adds that our poor lifestyle is triggering this, and if this continues the future looks even more bleak.

The problem with us young Indians is that we’re aloof when it comes to our health, the word exercise is alien to us, and stress is our best friend. Smoking and eating unhealthy isn’t helping either.

The IHA also reports that the population living in cities are three times more prone to heart attacks than people living in villages.

What Precautions Should You Take?

Yes, Indians are at a higher risk, but it’s not like heart problems are unavoidable. In order to avoid it, we need to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Follow these tips by Dr Ashok Seth to protect yourselves.

  1. Understand the risk factors for heart disease that can be avoided: like smoking, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and high blood pressure and work towards removing them.
  2. Take regular walks. Exercising doesn’t mean body building and excessive workouts. In fact, body building and the supplements you take with it can be harmful. Exercise for heart health means brisk walking for 45 minutes.
  3. Develop a work-life balance and deal with stress. Take time out of your stressful life to spend time with family, for indulging in your hobbies and relaxation.
  4. Get regular check ups for your cardiac health.
  5. Be proactive rather than reactive. Don’t wait for the disease to strike and only then start taking precautions. Develop healthy habits from an early age.

The genetic impact and family history, however, cannot be avoided. Those with family history of heart disease need to go for frequent health check-ups.

How to Help Someone Having a Heart Attack

Heart attack can be very sudden and it can hit anyone, at any time. But we need to be prepared and know the warning signs.

If anyone around you is having a heart attack, the first thing you should do is call for help. That’s the best way to handle the situation.

One can give an aspirin to the person having a heart attack if you recognise the signs. What that does is thin the blood so the flow to the heart is easier.

The best way forward is to be aware of our situation, understand the problem and proactively work towards prevention.

(Subscribe to FIT on Telegram)

Published: 
Stay Up On Your Health

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter Now.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!