Just a day back we came across yet another shocking news of a 19-year-old individual dying of a heart attack during garba practice in Gujarat’s Jamnagar. Coming across such headlines every single day is only adding to our already existing fear of heart attacks.
What’s more, heart attacks while performing heavy physical activities like exercising, dancing or playing sports have become common leaving many scared of engaging in any physical activities. Now, even a minor shoulder pain that can arise from an uncomfortable sitting posture in the office or a chest burn that is commonly a result of acidity is instantly linked to a heart attack. So real is the fear, that our mind forces us to believe in the worst.
While we all know the common causes of heart attacks, on World Heart Day 2023, we asked doctors how to deal with the fear of heart attacks and how to truly distinguish between an attack and normal body pains.
Dealing with fear
Dealing with the fear of heart attacks requires a balanced approach. “Education is key,” says Dr Sunil Wani, consultant, cardiology, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. The fear of heart attacks is often associated with panic and anxiety which worsens the situation and comes in the way of pragmatic decision-making.
Wani urges all, especially the young, to educate themselves about heart health and dispel myths and misconceptions revolving around it. This helps in understanding the risks more clearly and reduces anxiety.
Dr Sameer Pagad, senior consultant, cardiologist, Global Hospitals Parel, Mumbai adds, “I have observed a gradually increasing trend in the number of people suffering from a heart attack which also includes young individuals. It is indeed concerning. However, the only way to deal with this is to truly understand the factors that increase one’s risk of heart attack and take steps in the right direction instead of giving into the fear of succumbing to a heart attack.”
Both Wani and Pagad suggest effective ways to deal with fear
Learn about heart health. Know the lifestyle habits that can benefit and harm your heart. Understand the symptoms of a heart attack or cardiac arrest. Learn about your health as well as your family’s health history. The more you stay informed, the better you will be able to calm yourself down with a pragmatic approach as well as be prepared to deal with a health emergency.
Take regular health check-ups
Sometimes most people don’t show any immediate symptoms of a heart attack. This makes it extremely important for everyone to take regular health check-ups. Doing so will help one recognise the possible health risks and the need for necessary lifestyle changes that can further help in preventing a medical emergency.
Train yourself for emergency
It is essential to learn basic first aid and CPR techniques to be prepared to assist someone experiencing a heart attack. When helping someone having a heart attack, it`s crucial to take immediate action.
Know about the emergency services available in your area to seek immediate professional medical assistance. If the person is not allergic and has been prescribed aspirin, give them a regular, uncoated aspirin to chew slowly, as it can help reduce blood clot formation. If the individual has been prescribed nitro-glycerine, assist them in taking it as directed.
Stay with the person, keep them calm, monitor their vital signs and be prepared to perform CPR if they become unconscious and stop breathing.
It`s advisable to wait for professional medical assistance rather than attempting to transport the person to the hospital yourself.
Besides this, you can also share your concerns with friends and family, join support groups, or seek therapy to cope with anxiety.
Identifying the difference between heart attacks and other normal health issues
“Although chest burning, underarm discomfort, shoulder pain, and back pain are signs of a heart attack, they can also be caused by other conditions,” says Wani.
A common description of heart attacks is crushing or squeezing chest pain, which can also extend to the left arm, neck, jaw, shoulder or back. Atypical symptoms include nausea, shortness of breath, profuse sweating or extreme weariness might. These occur in certain persons, particularly in women. Symptom duration, accompanying symptoms like perspiration and dizziness and relief with rest might all offer hints.
“Other symptoms of a heart attack also include pain in the underarms, burning in the chest, vomiting, fainting and light-headedness,” adds Pagad.
Both experts suggest seeking emergency medical help when in doubt or excruciating pain.
Besides these common symptoms of a heart attack, Pagad also points out health risks or underlying health conditions that can lead to a heart attack. Family history of heart disease and genetics play a huge role in determining the risk factor. Further, diabetes, especially among the young, hypertension, stress, high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol levels), sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary choices and obesity have increased the chances of heart attacks even in the young. Further, the increase in alcohol and tobacco consumption, and substance abuse among young is pushing them under high risk.
Further, Wani adds, “Western diets, characterised by high consumption of processed foods and unhealthy fats, have contributed to the problem.”
Lifestyle changes key to preventing heart attacks
For those residing in a fast-paced city like Mumbai, the risk of heart attack is believed to be more due to faulty lifestyles.
Commenting on the same, Wani says, “Mumbai is always running and we all love to hustle to match its pace by being a Mumbaikar. However, we must pause, take a break from time to time, focus on our health and then jump back into the hustle of Mumbai.”
In order to prevent heart attacks there is an urgent need to make key lifestyle modifications:
1. Prioritise a heart-healthy diet
2. Engage in regular physical activity (150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly)
3. Manage stress through techniques like meditation
4. Quit smoking and limit alcohol
5. Maintain a healthy weight
6. Ensure you get adequate sleep
These steps, when integrated into daily life, significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks.