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Gen Z’s Heart Health: The Importance of Proactive Prevention and Regular Check-Ups

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and it is often associated with older adults. However, recent studies have shown that heart disease is becoming increasingly prevalent in younger age groups, particularly among Gen Z individuals who are health-conscious and often engage in extreme dieting or exercise regimens. While these behaviors may seem beneficial on the surface, they can put significant stress on the heart and increase the risk of heart attacks.

Dr Vaibhav Dedhia, MD, DNB (Cardiology), SR Interventional Cardiologist at Bhatia Hospital Mumbai, says, โ€œGen Z are those who are aged 15-24 years today. In recent days, we have been seeing a sprout of episodes of heart attacks in the young generation and those who have excelled in a short period of time; those who have moved very fast on the ladder of success. Gone are the days when people would get heart problems and attacks at the age of 60-70 years. Indians of the higher socioeconomic class have been shown to get heart attacks at a younger age as compared to the western countries.โ€

Why are young adults suffering from heart attacks?

Heart attacks are now being seen in young adults and even in teenagers who are as young as 15 years. The reason relates to the lifestyle we are living; the kind of food we consume which will determine our heart condition. โ€œLack of physical activity and getting hooked to electronic gadgets are the reasons why we see young people suffering from heart disease at a very early age. It is very important to note that signs of blockages in the heart are not seen at an early stage, they develop over the years and if not detected soon can lead to a sudden attack. Symptoms of diabetes are frequent urination and a thirst to drink water very often,โ€ says Dr Rahul Chhabria, Consultant Cardiologist at Bhatia Hospital Mumbai.

The young population who are overweight and have a family history of heart diseases should be screened early on for any heart related ailments. โ€œAlso, for those whose diet does not include regular habit of eating fruits and leafy vegetables but consume lots of fast food and high cholesterol food should be go for regular heart checks and find out their cholesterol levels,โ€ adds Dr Chhabria.

Some of these young adults have a strong family history of heart disease. Dr Dedhia recalls an incident, โ€œRecently I had a 22-year-old boy who came with abdominal pain. He was investigated and shown to have small infarcts in the small intestine and his left kidney. When his heart evaluation was done it showed a portion of his heart had infarcted, which led to clot formation in the heart cavity and embolic phenomena to other organs of his body. His risk factors were lack of sleep, irregular and long working hours along with high intake of fried street foods.โ€

Importance of regular health check-ups

Regular health check-ups can prevent these events from happening. Risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes are increasingly being picked up in youngsters. High cholesterol levels are also being diagnosed and need timely treatment to prevent cardiac events. The need for 7-8 hours of quality sleep must be emphasized in these youngsters.

Venkata Suman Cherukuri, Chairman & MD, TRUSTlab Diagnostics, says, โ€œGen Z individuals are known to be health conscious. But the surprising fact is that they have almost zero understanding of the need for regular health check-ups. Indians, with smaller coronary arteries than westerners, are more prone to heart ailments; hence it makes sense to go for regular health check-ups. But the concept of a thorough annual check-up is far from the mindset of 20- and 30-year-olds.โ€

Periodic health and screening tests can forewarn us about potential ailments, including those of the heart. They will alert us if we are in the high-risk category for heart ailments. Usually, we experience the symptoms of heart disease only when the disease reaches an advanced stage. โ€œTests that measure lipid profile, homocysteine, lipoprotein, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), among others, can predict if one is at risk of a heart attack. Take the lipoprotein (A) test for example, as per the Indian Heart Association, our risk for heart disease and stroke can increase up to 100-fold with LDL cholesterol that is one of the most dangerous types of bad cholesterol. Elevated levels of lipoprotein (A) indicate a higher risk of heart disease; hence regular tests for the same can help us take preventive measures,โ€ adds Cherukuri.

However, it is important to note that the test results need to be evaluated by an expert medical professional and read in conjunction with several other factors. Along with other common screeners like ECG, CT scan for coronary calcium, 2D echocardiogram, and stress test, are recommended even for the health conscious who are in the high-risk category. โ€œSome individuals, who, despite being fit, are genetically predisposed to have a narrow aortic valve, may have heart circulation anomalies, where the arteries of the heart arise from wrong sinuses, and electrical irregularities, among others. Under these circumstances, regular health check-ups, particularly those relevant to cardiac health, can significantly mitigate the arrival of heart problems,โ€ opines Cherukuri.

Unfortunately, our understanding of fitness is often limited to workouts in the gym to attain the perfect body. โ€œRarely do people recognise the need for annual health checks. That is why we get shocked when we see seemingly fit people succumb to a heart attack. Remember: sometimes a six-pack can camouflage a weak heart,โ€ signs off Cherukuri.

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