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Why Regular Heart Check-ups are Important to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease?

How often do you hear that someone you know has a heart problem or a disease? Well, many times, right? One of the most dreaded health problems today is cardiovascular disease or more popularly called heart disease or problem. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the one the prime causes of mortality globally, including India. Caused by the disorders of the heart and blood vessels, cardiovascular diseases are also a result of physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and consumption of tobacco, excessive alcohol, etc. Cardiovascular diseases have taken a sharp rise in the country in the past years and have affected people at an alarming rate. According to WHO (World Health Organisation), cardiovascular diseases are the prime cause of death globally. Each year more than 17.9 million people in the world die because of CVDs.

In this article, we understand what are cardiovascular diseases, and how can regular heart check-ups help prevent the rising burden of these diseases.

What are cardiovascular diseases?

Cardiovascular diseases or more commonly known as heart diseases refer to different conditions of the heart. This umbrella term encompasses issues that affect the heart like:

  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia)
  • Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
  • Blood vessel issues such as coronary artery disease and peripheral disease

Most of these cardiovascular diseases are caused because of interference in the normal functioning of the heart. The build-up of plaque, blood clots, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, etc. is all contributors to heart issues. 

How common are cardiovascular diseases?

India and across the globe, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of deaths across all age groups. According to WHO, 31% of all deaths worldwide occur because of cardiovascular diseases. That said, four out of every five CVD death is because of heart attack or stroke. And one-third of these deaths happen in people below 70 years of age. 

While the figures are shocking, it is possible to prevent the increasing burden of cardiovascular diseases by following a healthy lifestyle and diet. Most importantly, regular heart check-ups play a significant role in preventing cardiovascular diseases among people of all ages. It is advisable to start preventive diagnostic health check-ups by the age of 20, while other more advanced diagnostic tests can begin at a later age.

What are the different types of heart check-ups?

There are essentially two types of preventive cardiac health check-ups – routine and deep. The routine heart check-ups should start by the age of 20 to diagnose any issues early and adopt preventive measures to improve heart health. However, some specific tests are needed only in the later years of life, such as the above 35 years. But in case, the doctor finds any signs of heart disease or even the slightest risk of a problem the doctor will prescribe additional tests.

What are routine heart check-ups? 

Routine cardiovascular tests are diagnostics exams that analyse the general health of the heart and identify any potential risk factors. It is advisable for everyone above 20 years of age to get a routine heart check-up done every six months. 

Some common heart check-ups include:

  • Blood pressure and blood cholesterol tests
  • Blood glucose tests
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) tests

In case, the person has risk or any signs of heart disease or even a family history of heart diseases the doctor might start the routine heart screenings from an early age. For these cases, the medical professional can also advise a test of C-reactive protein to check C-reactive protein (CRP) in the heart. The CRP is an indicator of swelling or infection in the heart, which can cause a heart attack if not corrected well in time.

What are the more advanced heart check-ups?

Advanced heart check-ups are diagnostic tests advised by the doctor in case there are any warnings signs of heart diseases. Moreover, even if a person has a family history of heart disease, the doctor might advise specific tests to understand cardiac health better. 

Some advanced heart check-ups include:

  • Electrocardiography (ECG, EKG): In this test, the doctor measures the heart’s electrical activity by placing small, sticky electrodes to the chest and linking them to a different machine, known as ECG. The machine assesses the heart rate and rhythm and gives information about the overall health of the heart. 
  • Cardiac stress test: In this test, the doctor attaches electrodes the patient’s chest and links these electrodes to an ECG machine, while the patient is asked to run on a treadmill, pedal or a stationary cycle to enable recording of the heart’s activity under stress.
  • Echocardiography: In this assessment, an ultrasound machine is used to make the moving images of the patient’s heart. This test helps the doctor assess the pumping function of the heart muscle and know the general condition of the heart valves. Usually, this test is done before or after exercise. In some cases, the patient is also given specific medications to assess the impact. 
  • Nuclear stress test: In this heart health check-up, the doctor places a small amount of permissible radioactive dye in the patient’s bloodstream. Once the dye enters the blood, it travels to the heart muscle, enabling the doctor to obtain clear images of the heart. This test is done when the person is resting, as well as, once after exercise to evaluate the difference in both circumstances.
  • Cardiac CT scan: The doctor performs a cardiac CT scan to check the calcium scoring. The patient is asked to lie under the CT scanner, while the doctor places electrodes on the patient’s chest. The results help to assess the electrical activity of the heart, as well as, determine if there is any build-up of plaque in the arteries or existing blockage in the coronary arteries.
  • Coronary CT angiography (CTA): This specific diagnostic test helps to deeply record the activity of the heart muscle while providing absolute clarity on any plaque build-up or coronary artery blockage. In this test, the patient’s bloodstream is inserted with a contrast dye to help takes CT images of the heart via a CT scanner.
  • Coronary catheter angiography: In this heart check-up, the doctor inserts a tiny tube, called a catheter inside the groin of the patient. The catheter is then made to reach the heart via an artery. The patient’s bloodstream is inserted with a contrast dye to help the catheter reach the precise location, as well as take X-Ray images of the inside of the heart. 

For patients who show any risks or existing issues in their test results, will have to undertake necessary treatment, as well adopt specific lifestyle changes and medications to minimise any future risk.

When should one get these tests done?

Generally, doctors advise the below age limits to begin the heart health check-ups:

  • Weight and BMI check-ups: Six-monthly check-ups for all age groups
  • Blood pressure check-ups: From the age of 20 and once every two years
  • Blood cholesterol check-ups: From the age of 20 and once in every four to six years
  • Blood glucose check-ups: From the age of 40 or 45 and once every three years

Apart from these regular screenings, for some patients, the doctors might recommend cardiac health check-ups at an early age to reduce risks of the future.

What are the benefits of regular heart check-ups?

Regular heart check-ups provide the following benefits:

  • Regular screening help in timely detection of critical heart issues like blocked arteries, the build-up of plaque, disease of the blood vessels, etc. Early diagnosis easily minimises the risk of these heart issues, improves chances of survival and full recovery. Moreover, regular check-ups reduce the duration of treatment, which helps to save more money and also avoid surgeries and other serious medical expenditure.
  • Regular heart check-ups help to minimise heart risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. Timely medical screenings provide an update on these health statistics and help take immediate preventive action, in case of discrepancies.
  • Preventive heart check-ups act as scheduled report cards, providing detailed insights into the general state of the heart and it functioning.The heart test results help people stay alert about their health, identify triggers and avoid any complications. Moreover, reports also motivate people to stay healthy, maintain balanced body weight and exercise regularly. All this, in turn, reduces the risk of heart issues.
  • Continuous heart check-ups help to keep heart vitals and necessary health indicators in check. These indicators include blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. 

Overall, regular heart check-ups are significantly helpful in preventing heart issues, as well as reducing their intensity, enabling a healthier life.

Safe and Novel Sonic Boom technology to open hard blocked arteries

Occurrence of coronary artery calcification is high among patients with advanced age, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes. Percutaneous coronary intervention of heavily calcified coronary artery remains a significant challenge for interventional cardiologists.  A promising new addition to the armamentarium for treatment of severely calcified lesions in the coronary and peripheral vasculature is the adaptation of lithotripsy technology for vascular calcification.

Although there are several modalities available in treating calcified coronary arteries, Dr. Anil Mishra, consultant, Interventional cardiologist, BM Birla Heart research centre and his team performed a very novel procedure of ‘Shock Wave Therapy to open calcified blocked heart arteries. The arteries were not getting cleared by the usual procedure, so the doctor used the new and uncommon technology of ‘Acoustic Shock Wave’ known as Intravascular lithotripsy which has recently emerged as a beneficial option in treating calcified peripheral artery disease. However, coronary IVL is currently available only in a few centres, studies are ongoing in the safety and efficacy of this technology in treating coronaries.

“An 87 years old man was admitted to BM Birla with 90 percent blocked left Main artery. His left artery was densely calcified. Since rotablation was difficult and has a higher complication rate we tried a standard technique of non-compliant and cutting  balloon angioplasty at first, with an extremely high pressure but it became impossible to open such a blockage. These calcified blocks behave like hard rocks. Even if we put stents, they do not open up well causing very high chance of re-blockages. Such blockages are found in nearly 20% of the patients especially those who are elderly diabetic or have chronic kidney disease or have long-standing blockages or previous bypass surgery. Hence, we decided to go ahead with the Shockwave Coronary Lithotripsy, which is a major advancement over the previous techniques and used for such hard blockages since ultra-high-pressure balloons or rotatory drills are complex to use and carry the risk of rupturing the artery, explains Dr Mishra.

Dr. Mishra elaborates “Such blockages can now be opened with ease and safety to give patients the best results for the long term. The sonic pressure waves are produced when performing Intravascular Lithotripsy giving us a novel safe and proven treatment option to break up the calcified plaque with potentially least risk of injury to the artery compared to other treatments. The calcium hardened structure restricts normal artery movement and makes the rigid arterial tissue resistant to traditional balloon therapies that have been designed to compress the plaque within the artery wall to restore normal blood flow”.

The angioplasty was successfully conducted and the patient is doing well post the procedure. He has be discharged within a couple of days from the hospital. With a hospital stay of only two days and hardly any incision or blood loss, he is back to normal life .He is extremely happy and the family is  relieved.

Swasthya Sathi Scheme

The Swasthya Sathi Scheme was launched in December 2016 by the government of West Bengal to provide basic health insurance cover for families. The scheme was later merged with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s flagship health insurance plan ‘Ayushman Bharat’. Both plans came to collectively be called ‘Swasthya Sathi’ in West Bengal. The scheme aims to offer one medical insurance plan to the people of West Bengal particularly to informal contractual workers in the government department and other people living below the deprivation limit. The health insurance cover can be extended to provide financial protection to the family members including spouse, children and parents.

Scope of the Swasthya Sathi Scheme

The Swasthya Sathi Scheme initially covered 47 lakh beneficiaries in the state of West Bengal. However, in 2018, the plan included 6 crores, individuals. Moreover, the policy only offered insurance cover of Rs. 1.5 lakh earlier, whereas after the merger, the scheme now provides insurance coverage of Rs 5 lakhs. The expense, for the common beneficiaries of the state and the centre, will be shared between the centre and the state government.

Main Features of the Swasthya Sathi Scheme

Some of the main features of the Swasthya Sathi Scheme include:

  • The policy is a standard health insurance plan offering secondary and tertiary care of Rs. 5 lakh per annum per insured family.
  • It is a paperless, hassle-free, cashless and a completely smart card-based scheme.
  • The policy provides protection against all pre-existing medical conditions.
  • There is no upper limit on the size of the family. Moreover, the insurance cover can be extended to include both spouse parents.
  • The scheme also offers cover for any physically dependent or challenged persons in the family of the insured.
  • The policy offers benefits like pre-and post-hospitalisation costs, transport, medications, IPD, OPD consultation, etc.
  • The total insurance premiums under the scheme are paid by the State and the Centre government, with no contribution from the beneficiary.
  • The scheme offers an online Swasthya Sathi Smart card for each family. The card is given on the day of enrolment. It includes all details of the family members, their photographs, biometrics, addresses, mobile numbers, and SECC ID.
  • The insurance plan is completely paperless and is managed through a robust IT platform.
  • The scheme also promotes informed decision making by providing online empanelment and gradation of hospitals in accordance with their services and infrastructure.
  • The insurance plan allows 100% pre-authorisation online. The turn-around time is 24 Hrs.
  • The scheme sends authorised SMS and instant alerts in case of blocking or misuse of the card.
  • The management panel uploads all e-health records of the beneficiaries on discharge in real-time.
  • The insurance plan includes hospital claim reimbursement with a tentative timeline of 30 days. Failure or delayed payments will lead to a charge of interest.
  • You can seek query resolution or any assistance from the 24X7 toll-free call centre. You can also give feedback about the scheme on the toll-free number available on the website.
  • The Swasthya Sathi Scheme includes an online complaint monitoring mechanism.
  • The policy sends online triggers and specific alarms in case of probable frauds with escalation matrix.
  • The insurance plan offers Android-based Swasthya Sathi Mobile app for beneficiary assistance.

Hospitals covered under Swasthya Sathi Scheme

The list of network hospitals where cashless treatment is offered by the Swasthya Sathi Scheme is given at the time of issuance of the Smart Card. In case of any information related to the network hospital, you can call the free toll helpline number, which is mentioned at the back of the Smart insurance card. Alternatively, you can use the Mobile App to find a hospital in the ‘active hospital tab’ option. Lastly, the list is also available on https://swasthyasathi.gov.in.

Generally, the hospitals are selected according to their facilities and infrastructure services. These hospitals are then rated according to grades – Grade A, Grade B, Grade C and Grade R. Grade A being the most preferred choice. The selection or list of network hospitals comprises both public and private hospitals.

Overall, the Swasthya Sathi Scheme was launched to increase the penetration of insurance in those who are less privileged. With the rising medical costs coupled with an increase in the intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors, insurance plans like Swasthya Sathi Scheme, act as a blessing for people, especially those who are below the deprivation level and cannot afford an insurance cover.

Find heart hospital near you

How to Find the Best Heart Hospital Near You?

The heart is one of the most critical organs in the human body. Hence, it is important you protect and treat it well. In case, you face an issue, it is always advisable to consult a heart doctor, also known as a cardiologist, at the earliest possible.

In case you are looking for a heart hospital to visit near you, here are some easy steps that can help you find the best heart hospital near you:

  • Seek Referrals: Foremost, start with getting advice or a referral from your primary care doctor. Alternatively, you can seek suggestions from close friends, family or peers, as well as other healthcare professionals to finds the right hospital for your heart needs.
  • Evaluate the hospital: Once you have the list of hospitals,the next step is to narrow your list by evaluating each referral. You can do exhaustive online research and check the patient reviews, hospital ratings, successful patient cases, records, history, brand name, and more. You should also assess the credentials of the hospital in terms of doctors, years of service, infrastructure facilities,certifications, licenses, discipline records, etc.
  • Consider the experience of the cardiologist: When assessing the hospital, one critical factor that must evaluate is the experience of the cardiologists and the cardiology department. Remember, when it is about your heart health, experience matters significantly. The more experienced your heart doctor is, the better will be the outcomes and treatment results. Be sure to ask the number of patients treated with a similar condition as yours, overall patient experience, total cases handled, etc.
  • Research about the quality of the hospital: The hospital where your doctor will treat you matters significantly. Top-rated hospitals tend to have fewer complications and better success rates. Do your research well because two hospitals near you could have very different patient outcomes. Additionally, check the location of the hospital. Always opt for a care facility which is closer to your home. This will ensure you get timely care and thus, increase your chances for faster recovery.
  • Check the communication style: After everything is sorted, check how effectively your cardiologist communicates with you. Ideally, your heart doctor should make you feel comfortable and listen to your issues attentively. The doctor should consider your treatment preferences, medical history and accordingly offer a treatment plan that best suits your medical condition.

Once you have completed all steps, you will easily know which doctor to consult. So, book an appoint and get the best care for your heart.

Congenital Heart Defects (CDC)

Congenital heart defects or CDCs are medical issues related to the heart, which are present at birth. These problems affect the structure of the baby’s heart and its overall functioning. Further, congenital heart issues also impact the way the blood flows through the heart and ultimately reaches the body. Congenital heart problems can be less complicated like a mild hole or even serious ones like missing or poorly developed parts of the heart. Moreover, congenital heart issues are one of the most common types of birth issues found in kinds.

Reasons for Congenital Heart Defects

The main reason for congenital heart ailments is not known. However, in some cases, children have these problems because of changes in their genes or chromosomes. But in some cases, defects are because of a combination of genes, along with other factors like the environment, the mother’s diet during pregnancy, general health condition of the mother, medications during pregnancy, and smoking during pregnancy. Moreover, in cases, if the mother is obese or obesity or diabetes, a child can have heart issues or defects.

Types of Congenital Heart Defects

Atrial Septal Defect or ASD: Atrial Septal Defect is in the part of the septum, which divides the right and left chambers of the heart. This causes the oxygen-rich blood from the left chamber of the heart, known as an atrium, to go into the right chamber. Instead, the blood from the left chamber should ideally go into the left ventricle as per the normal process. When the direction of blood changes, the oxygen-rich blood flows back into the lungs, instead of going into the body. Typically, ASD can be small or large, depending on the condition of the heart. In most cases, a small ASD is not harmful and does not need any special medical treatment since the hole automatically closes on its own along with the natural growth of the child. In case of a large ASD, there is more leakage of blood, which could be potentially very harmful to the baby. However, if the hole does not fill up on its own, the child will need special care and treatment. That said, the signs of a heart hole do no occur in a child up until the age of 30 years or even later. In all, if a large heart hole is not repaired in time, the child might suffer a heart failure, or irregular heartbeats, stroke, pulmonary hypertension, and several other heart-related complications.

Ventricular Septal Defect or VSD:  A VSD is a kind of defect where the child’s heart has a hole in the opening of the septum, which separates the lower chambers of the heart, known as the ventricles. This defect causes the oxygen-rich blood from the heart’s left ventricle to flow into the right ventricle. The blood eventually mixes up with the oxygen-poor blood, rather than going out of the body through the aorta. In some cases, a child can have more than one VSD. But in most cases, the VSD closes on its own as the child grows in age. Such ailments do not cause any issue. Alternatively, large size VSDs can cause some problems and will need surgery, if they do not eventually close on their own. A large hole can cause heart failure, growth issues, irregular heartbeats, and pulmonary hypertension.

Coarctation of the Aorta: Coarctation is an intense congenital defect, which implies a narrowing of the aorta. Typically, the aorta is a large blood vessel, which stretches from the heart to provide oxygen-rich blood to the entire body. If a child experiences a coarctation of the aorta, the heart is forced to function even harder and pump blood profusely to ensure a smooth flow through the narrowed aorta. This, in turn, impacts the efficiency of the heart and thereby, the general health of the child. This condition is usually present at birth and could be intense or mild, varying from case-to-case. In some instances, the condition can go unnoticed until adulthood. However, this depends on how much the aorta is affected. Coarctation of the aorta can be treated easily and often successfully, but the medical attention is life-long and requires consisted of follow-ups and precautions.

Double-outlet Right Ventricle (DORV): DORV is a serious congenital heart issue, which develops in a child. In this problem, the aorta of the heart, which is generally linked to the left ventricle (the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body), is instead by default associated to the right ventricle (the chamber that provides oxygen-poor blood to the lungs). This issue causes both the arteries to automatically flow out of the right ventricle. This leads the oxygen-poor blood to flow to the entire 

D-Transposition of the Great Arteries: This is aserious congenital heart disorder in which the aorta and the pulmonary artery of the heart of the child shift from their normal position. The change in position causes the aorta to flow through the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery to the branch of the left ventricle. This causes the aorta to come off the right ventricle and pulmonary artery to come from the left ventricle. This means that oxygen-rich blood from the lungs flows back to the lungs itself. Instead, the poor-oxygen blood from the body flows back to the system, which should ideally be going to the lungs for the oxygen-enrichment process.

Ebstein Anomaly: This is a rare congenital issue where the child’s heart valve, located between the right atrium and the right ventricle of the heart, sits in the wrong position. The leaflets of the valve are not of the right shape. This causes the value to malfunction and ultimately lead to leakage of the blood back to the valve and then finally to the right atrium.

Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome: This is one of the most severe types of the heart defect. This syndrome occurs when the child’s left side of the heart does not develop properly during the pregnancy term. This makes the left-side of the heart unable of pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body efficiently. In this syndrome, surgery or other medical treatment is required. However, as soon as the baby is born and displays any symptoms of the disorder, urgent medical attention is required:

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Defects

Symptoms of heart defects in children vary by the type of ailment. In some cases, there may be no signs at all. However, some common signs include:

  • Blue-tinted nails
  • Blue lips
  • Tiredness when feeding
  • Sleepiness

Most of the congenital heart issues are detected during pregnancy. However, some other health concerns can also be diagnosed during post-birth and later like. 

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