A health survey conducted relating to heart diseases have revealed that South Asians are more prone to heart attacks and of this, women are marked the more susceptible compared to other ethnic groups. In UK the incidence of heart disease is 29 percent more in women of India Origin than local women. Even Indian women are 19 percent more prone to the problem than local women. Similar figures are being reported for Indians for all over the world. Obviously, there is something seriously wrong with us, our health and our habits.
In our country, the urban female is high on the risk list and it is rising rather steeply, unless sincere preventive measures are taken by all concerned, the mortality rate is going to increase two fold within the next decade. The current figures show about 40 lakh persons who die of heart attack in our country and of this 15 lakh or so are women.
The incidence among women in our country shows a steep rise because of an increase in the number of risk factors. More and more women are getting addicted to pan masala, tobacco chewing and cigarette smoking. The urban women and more so the affluent amongst them, are more interested in their parties and social gathering than physical exercise. The food served at parties are generally more fried and together with this the amount of sweet intake increases the fat content in food intake. Abdominal obesity in addition to these risk factors are associated with increasing number of heart attacks.
Now our women are definitely getting more obese than earlier. Where earlier the malady was more common in developed countries, it is rising in the developing countries. It was customary of our women, earlier to fast on certain days of the month. This was quite an obligatory ritual in all sections of the society. In cases where the fast was not total, the food for the day was solely of fruits and non-salted preparations. These rituals are now more ignored than used and with less physical work continues to add for fat to the girth.
Angina is more prevalent in women than men and they have the worst prognosis. More women die from heart attacks in age due to delay in admission to hospitals with ICU or Intensive Care Units. The delay is because, women of Indian Origin feel it a harassment for their family and men, to complain of pain and illness and continue to suppress it as long as tolerable. By the time the family members become aware of the seriousness of the situation it generally becomes too late.
Dr. Paul McKeegne of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine offers an explanation for the higher percentage in South Asian and Indian persons. He says they are affected by disturbance of body chemistry. High levels of insulin have to be produced in the body to keep sugar level down. This condition is known as insulin resistance. Those who cannot cope up with this body demand, end up with diabetes.
The explanation for this syndrome is given as food scarcity and hard physical work, an explanation which does not conform to the adage that ‘hard work never killed anyone’. The resistance to insulin metabolizes the blood sugar quickly leading to on serving the blood sugar for longer period with little food. When plenty of food is available and these people eat to their hearts content, this insulin resistance becomes a health hazard. It leads to high blood pressure and high levels of triglyceride which increases heart attacks.
Our women are supposed to be suffering from ‘insulin resistance syndrome’ which is responsible for acquiring over-eating habits and make them more prone to heart attacks whether they remain in our country or are now residents of more developed nations or as they are glorified as Non-Resident Indians.
Women are lesser in number than men in undergoing bypass surgery or balloon angioplasty and are less responsive than men to coronary artery bypass surgery. They have been found to face comparatively better with medical treatment than men vis-a-vis surgery. Women who work for a living, including corporate executives, have lower risk factors relating to heart attacks including blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The satisfaction derived from a job acts as a protection against the malady. This may be relevant to the West where financial gains from jobs do not get top priority.
However, the situation in India is quite different. Here, in majority of the cases, women work to give financial support to their family. The rules are totally changed in India and tilted against the working women. Her job outside home is in addition to the rest of her chores which include housekeeping, cooking food for the family, taking care of children and attending to her husband and in-laws. The family does share her finances and earnings but will not share her chores. The husband will find it against his ego to help her in the kitchen as they do in the West. Naturally the incidence of heart attacks go up with the hypertension, life related stress, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
A study needs to be made about all these factors and the necessary changes in social structure to help women overcome these problems. The risk factors relating to heart disease and a change in lifestyle is necessary to reduce the mortality rate.