Heart Disease: Risk for South Asian Women


According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, South Asians face three to five times greater risk of developing heart disease or stroke. The impact of heart disease in the South Asian community continues to grow.

Heart disease also known as cardiovascular disease describes a range of conditions that affects ones heart. It refers to a condition that involves narrowed or blocked blood vessels; this can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or a stroke. Furthermore, the blockage or narrowing can prevent your heart, brain or other parts of the body from receiving enough blood. Some common symptoms include chest pains, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, light-headedness and discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, or back.

Cardiologist Dr. Shekhar Pandey knows first-hand the impact this disease can have on families and especially women, as he lost his mother-in-law to the disease several years ago. Dr. Pandey treats many South Asian patients with heart disease; he is an Adult Cardiologist at Cambridge Cardiac Centre and a Staff Cardiologist at Cambridge Memorial Hospital. He is also the founder of the “Prevent” Clinic, a multi-disciplinary, high risk prevention clinic focused on risk modification and lifestyle optimization.

In a recent interview Dr. Pandey explains the following regarding this disease:

When it comes to heart disease a common myth is that women are not at risk; they feel it is a “man’s disease”. However, South Asian women are at high risk and their risk increases especially after menopause. In fact, women have a 65-67% risk over their lifetime which is comparable to men who have a 70% risk. There are no apparent early signs and symptoms for the disease; it is a slow progressing disease and women are more likely to avoid medical attention despite studies showing 90% of all heart disease cases can be prevented. Risk factors for women include: genetics, dietary habits, diabetes, smoking and sedentary lifestyle. The top preventable lifestyle change has to include increased physical activity. The North American lifestyle includes sitting most of the day whether; it’s at work or driving everywhere. We need to incorporate physical activity in our daily lives and it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as walking every day. Women also need to be more pro-active by getting screened early and having their blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol checked regularly. Heart disease is the leading cause of death and women in particular, need to become empowered in changing their lifestyle habits at an early age. Fatty substances that accumulate in the lining of the artery wall and restricting blood flow known as artherosclerotic plaques have been shown to develop as early as in the teenage years without exhibiting any symptoms. Eventually the formation of artherosclerotic plaques and subsequent heart disease catch up to women primarily between the ages of 50-60. There are no excuses; we live in a society where technology, medication and treatment are readily available.

Imagine if the numbers are so high in 2016, what will become of the next generation? Diabetes and obesity rates are going up rapidly especially in the South Asian community. It is up to us to educate our children about eating healthy and exercising daily and of course by being excellent role models. Children learn from their parents and elders by watching and emulating behaviour. We can’t just talk the talk, we have to literally walk the walk. We can prevent 90% of heart attacks. For the sake of our families and loved ones, we must do so. Women are the core to all families. Our mothers, sisters, daughters all need to be empowered and encouraged to lead healthier lives not just for themselves but for their family. For resources and guides for a heart healthy lifestyle, visit www.cambridgecardiaccare.com.