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Young looks blamed, not by doctors

The shock triggered by actress Sridevi's death in Dubai on Saturday hours after she appeared pristine in shimmering clothes has ignited speculation on social media about potential risks ageing adults might face through efforts to remain slim and look young.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 26.02.18
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File photo of Sridevi accepting the Padma Shri from President Pranab Mukherjee in 2013. PTI picture

New Delhi: The shock triggered by actress Sridevi's death in Dubai on Saturday hours after she appeared pristine in shimmering clothes has ignited speculation on social media about potential risks ageing adults might face through efforts to remain slim and look young.

Doctors on Sunday asserted that medical reasons may help explain sudden cardiac arrest - the cause attributed to Sridevi's death by her family - in a 54-year-old woman and that scientifically proven strategies for weight loss and looking younger would not pose health risks.

But members of the public used social media platforms - Facebook and WhatsApp - to speculate about the risks associated with the pursuit of slimness and youthful looks, drawing agreement and admonishment, and reinforcing concerns that social media can turn into echo chambers for unsubstantiated claims.

"While we are all mourning the untimely demise of Sridevi, it is important to remember why this may have happened to her. Society demanded that she stay slimmer, look younger, than a 40-year-old, 50-year-old, and plus-50 woman needs to be - hence the continuous surgeries," a message on Facebook said.

"When I met her about 5 years ago, she was beautiful but a sad version of that self that we loved so much in a movie like Chandni. What a lot of pressure to keep her weight down, to make sure her face had no wrinkle lines."

Another message on Facebook said "film stars go to any extent to look young n gorgeous as though one can look beautiful all ur life. They can't accept growing old n to keep up their beauty, they pump their body with God knows what n sure enough this is d result".

But such messages also drew angry reactions, some calling them insensitive. "Humans have reached a new level of lowness... Sridevi expired... and there are messages judging her life as an actress... talking about body image," one Facebook post said.

Another post said: "Respect her death, she lived her life her way by her choice."

Senior medical experts say a sudden cardiac arrest from attempts to lose weight would be considered "highly unlikely" and not something they would expect.

"Rapid weight loss of 15 to 20 per cent of body weight within a few days or certain medications for weight loss could alter blood dynamics and heart rhythms, but these conditions are highly unlikely to induce sudden cardiac arrest," said Anoop Misra, head of the Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol in New Delhi.

"Without information about medical history, this is pure speculation," Misra said. "But about five per cent of sudden cardiac arrests occur without specific medical history."

Doctors say coronary artery disease - which can lead to a heart attack - is among the standard risk factors for sudden cardiac arrests and accounts for the largest proportion of such deaths. Other risk factors include persistent abnormal heart rhythms, family history and medications that might induce abnormal heart rhythms.

"Sometimes there are no early warning signs," said Krishan Kumar Aggarwal, a senior cardiologist in New Delhi and former national president of the Indian Medical Association.

Aggarwal cited a landmark US study called the Framingham Heart Study that began about 70 years ago and has suggested that the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in the absence of any prior overt coronary heart disease is higher among women than among men.

"The exact mechanism of collapse in an individual patient is often impossible to establish since, for the vast majority of patients who die suddenly, their cardiac electrical activity is not being monitored at the time of collapse," he said.

Aggarwal also pointed out that it is usually more difficult to establish the diagnosis of heart disease in women than in men.

"Women are less likely than men to have typical angina... some cases of heart attacks in women may go unrecognised, particularly at younger ages or in patients with diabetes."