Indian women still ignorant about heart diseases
Mumbai, Sep 07: Sakshi Sudrik is a 34-year-old mother of three children. Two months ago, a strange heaviness in her chest and a slight back pain started troubling her. A neighbourhood doctor asked her not worry and sent her back home with acidity pills.
A few days later, Sakshi was rushed to hospital after she started getting electric-like shocks in her arms during her evening walk. She was diagnosed with a 90% blockage in the coronary arteries. Timely surgery saved her from a heart attack.
What happened to Sakshi is increasingly happening to women with heart ailments in three ways: misdiagnosis, lack of awareness of the rising risk among young women, and inability to recognise the symptoms of heart attacks.
“Women get a raw deal in terms of cardiovascular care. It is difficult to understand symptoms in women. Earlier, the belief was that only post-menopause women would be prone to heart disease but now it not unusual to see heart diseases among young women,” said Prafulla Kerkar, head of department of cardiology at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai.
Cardiovascular disease affects women differently at every level, including symptoms and risk factors. Menopause is still considered a huge risk factor for heart disease among women. Use of oral contraceptive pills and increase in smoking are other causes. However, the government’s awareness programmes for women are restricted to maternal health and cancer.
A study by Bengaluru’s Heal Foundation in 2013 found that 83% of 577 cardiologists believed that Indian women were ignorant about heart disease and 76% found that more women die due to delayed reporting in hospitals in case of cardiac problems. The study noted that 54% of the doctors observed a rise of 16-20% in cardiovascular disease among women in past five years.
Popular Indian culture – through advertisements, movies and plays – almost always shows only men getting heart attacks. The symptoms are usually severe pain in the chest and left arm. However, women don’t exhibit these symptoms. Instead, a heart attack in women would lead to shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The mortality rate per 100,000 is 264.6 for women and 348.9 for men in India, as per WHO data for 2012.
“I have put forward this issue at every public forum that women die more from heart diseases than cancer. No one is concentrating because they think this disease hardly exists in women. The government should create more awareness,” said Lekha Pathak, director at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital in Mumbai.
A gender bias study published in 2016, co-authored by KEM’s Kerkar, found that although they had a significantly higher co-morbidity burden, fewer women received medical therapy for cardiovascular disease than men. Only 38% of women patients got aspirin, against 50.4% of the men. Similarly, 36.8% of the women in the study got beta-blockers as compared to 47.8% for men.