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Women storm a bastion, but don’t take heart
- With increasing stress, more and more young achievers inherit cardiac problems

Calcutta, Feb. 2: Linda Goswami was only 26 when she landed in the operation theatre of a cardiac institute for bypass surgery.

But wasn’t this the “privilege” of successful males on the wrong side of 40, she wondered as she drifted off under the effect of anaesthesia.

The doctors attending on her were not surprised. They knew what Goswami, a smoker with wrong food habits working long hours at a multinational company, did not: that a woman’s heart is now susceptible to many things besides the charms of a man.

According to doctors, if women think their climb up the corporate ladder would be without the accompanying pitfalls, they must learn to think afresh. Their entry into what was so long the exclusive domain of men is also leading them to the cardiac surgeons’ scalpel, they say.

“The life that women have always wanted — in control of both the home and the office — has now been achieved,” surgeon Kunal Sarkar, who cut open Goswami’s heart, says.

“But the resulting exposure to the stress that men have traditionally faced is now seeing them enter the other male domain — the cardiac surgeon’s chamber.”

Goswami’s is not a one-off case. “In the last three months, I have been asked to perform surgery on six women and all of them were below 32,” Sarkar says. “It’s now confirmed that working women in the 25 to 45 age group are increasingly developing a cardiac condition and the trend has the potential to blow up in our face if women fail to modify their stress-filled life.”

Cardiologists across the city agree. Ajay Kaul, who echoes his colleagues at other city hospitals, admitted that of the patients queuing up with cardiac problems, nearly one in every four is a woman.

“Earlier, one would come across diseases of the heart among post-menopausal women (largely because the secretion of oestrogen would cease),” he says. “But a high-strung and stress-filled lifestyle, a history of heart disease in the family, diabetes and wrong food habits are giving women a bad heart.”

With prevalence of high cholesterol more in women than men in the early 20s, cardiologists warn that women should be more careful about their lifestyle despite the role oestrogen plays in preventing a build-up of LDL (low-density lipoprotein). The female hormone, they say, is no longer a woman’s shield against a bad heart.

The situation is no different in other metros. Delhi, for instance, has had cardiologists warning young women to face the consequences if they do not change their lifestyle. “Twenty-five-year-olds among women are now falling prey to this disease,” the director of interventional cardiology at Delhi’s Batra Heart Institute, Upendra Kaul, said. “It no longer pays to be complacent if you are in your 20s.”

“Women often fail to make the connection between high blood pressure, coupled with high levels of stress at work place and home, and their risk of developing a failing heart disease,” says Ashok Seth, the chief of invasive and interventional cardiology at Delhi’s Escorts Heart Institute. “This attitude is proving more deadly than the actual disease itself.”

Recent studies have shown that nearly 80 per cent of women are not aware that they are as prone to cardiac problems as men and often suppress the associated pain and discomfort by mistaking them for acidity.

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