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Take care of your heart

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Cardio-vascular disease is the world's number one killer. In the countdown to World Heart Day on September 29, Ronita Torcato highlights the need to raise awareness about heart health

When the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote the poem My Heart Leaps Up, he  attributed the reason for that sudden movement to the sight of "a rainbow in the sky”.

In The Lake Isle of Innisfree, the poet William Butler Yeats says he hears the lake waters “in the deep heart’s core”. Not all men are as sensitive to Nature as Wordsworth and Yeats were. For such, a  more likely reason for the arrhythmic or racing heart could well be a heart condition.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world today.  The Global Atlas on cardiovascular disease prevention and stroke, says that over 17.5 million die  each year on account of CVD. Ischemic heart disease (eg heart attacks) consumes 7.3 million lives from the total CVD deaths and cerebrovascular disease (eg. stroke) is responsible for 6.2 million of the total CVD deaths.

That’s a third of all deaths on the earth and  exceeds victims of cancer, HIV and AIDS, and malaria.   Around 80% of these deaths occur in developing countries where human and financial resources are inadequate to deal with CVD.  In the USA, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. Each minute, more than one person in the US dies from a heart disease-related event. About 630,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—one in every four deaths.

Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2015 were in men. Strangely, on an average, women’s hearts beat about 10% faster than men’s!

Non-communicable diseases including CVDs, are estimated to account for 60% of total adult deaths in India. CVDs account for 26% of these deaths. The cost of India's heart disease epidemic is over $2 trillion.

Several  medical conditions and lifestyle choices can  put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including diabetes obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive drinking.

World Heart Day on September 29 plays a significant role in changing this situation. Established by the Geneva-based World Heart Federation (WHF), the Day is a highlight of  its global awareness campaign to promote preventative steps and changes in lifestyle to avoid cardiovascular diseases.

The WHF even urges  governments to think red and last year got several structures illuminated including Angel de la Refor Mexico City Table Mountain and Cape Wheel, South Africa, Sheraton Grand Doha, Qatar Mauritius Commercial Bank  St Jean Tower, Mauritius

Singapore Flyer, Helix Bridge, Maybank Tower and Marina Square, Singapore Nasdaq screen, Times Square, New York Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, Menara Kuala Lumpur and KL Tower, Malaysia—not a single landmark from India although cardiovascular diseases  accounted for 62.5 million deaths in 2016. WHO has set the goal of reducing  mortality by 25% by 2025.

Social media enthusiasts can join the WHF’s social media Thunderclap, which  allows anyone with a Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr account to support the cause. With just  one click, Thunderclap posts a single message to the three social media feeds at the same time as every other supporter!

This year, WHF’s global campaign focuses on looking after our own hearts, and the hearts of our loved ones, the catchphrase being: MY HEART, YOUR HEART.

The  heart is the size of your fist. More or less. It  weighs less than half a kilo (450 grams to be exact). The beat of the healthy heart is a beautiful sound.  You can hear it in Western pop music which naturally defaults to 4/4. It beats 100,000 times a day and over 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime. Literally and figuratively, we would be incapacitated without a heart! Our bodies would  stop working. And since the heart is a  metaphor for the inner life as poets and mystics have always known, the heartless person is a dry, sere being. In the Bible, God  does not look at the external appearance, but at the heart, the seat of emotions.

Unbreak my heart, wailed Toni Braxton in her chartbusting hit. Rewind to Your Cheatin' Heart,  a song recorded by country music singer-songwriter Hank Williams, Elvis, Patsy Cline, and Fats Domino, among others. The Nobel Prize winning Anglo-Polish writer Joseph Conrad who lived in Mumbai for two years  would name an apocalyptic novel, Heart of Darkness after a stint in Malaya and Borneo. That heart is a conduit of evil.

In physical terms, the darkness of the heart manifests itself in chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea.

The South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard who died in September 2001 performed the world's first human heart transplant operation in 1967 and the first double-heart transplant in 1974.He visited India several times where he famously said,  "A nation is built on two pillars—health and education.”

This correspondent met him some years ago with Dr Bal Krishna Goyal, medical educationist and heart specialist, who headed the cardiology department at Bombay Hospital. The day before he died of cardiac arrest at 82, Dr Goyal had conducted 20 surgeries, including eight angioplasties. (Interestingly, Dr Alois Alzheimer, the German psychiatrist who discovered Alzheiimer’s  disease, died of heart disease at age 51.)

Like his illustrious South African peer, top  Mumbai cardiologist Dr Sudanshu Bhattacharya also expressed  the need for a strong medical education system.

The WHF suggests that heart-related problems and deaths can be solved by the participation of the public in its World Heart Day campaign. Accordingly, the WHF organises awareness events in more than 100 countries. These include health checks, sports events, including walks, runs and fitness sessions, public talks and science forums,  concerts, and exhibitions.

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