Santhosh, 27, went into the emergency room of a hospital sweating profusely and with complaints of fatigue and mild chest discomfort after playing a cricket match on Sunday noon. Doctors quickly concluded that he was exhausted and dehydrated. Santhosh, who works for a glass factory, was sent home after doctors advised him fluids and rest. Four hours later, when he returned with breathlessness, an ECG was taken. The results showed that he suffered from acute heart attack.
His family whisked him away to the cardiology care unit of Apollo Hospitals on Greams Road, Chennai. Investigations there showed that a huge clot in a big blood vessel of the heart had migrated into the smaller ones affecting the blood supply to different parts of the heart muscle. This triggered a heart attack. Doctors instantly told his relatives that his condition was critical. They wheeled him in for an emergency surgery. A new equipment and advanced technology saved his life.
Summer exhaustion, cardiologists say, can be misleading and delay diagnosis of heart attacks. The most common condition that delays diagnosis for heart attacks are heart burns. When stomach acid gets into the esophagus or throat it causes a burning sensation. Patients with heart burns mostly complain of chest uneasiness like in heart attack. ""This misleads many doctors. Now there are cases misconstrued as heat exhaustion,"" Dr G Sengottuvelu, Senior Consultant and Intrvention Cardiologist at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai.
Doctors who first saw Santhosh probably assumed that he was too young to have a heart attack or that it was normal for people to feel uneasy if they tire themselves out under the scorching sun. But what the doctors did not see was that Santhosh was in the high-risk group. He was a smoker and had a family history of heart attacks. His father died of heart attack at the age of 45 and his grandmother suffered heart attacks at the age of 55.
If the doctors had suspected a heart attack and given him blood thinners, it would have delayed some problems like migration of the clot. ""Surgery might have been unavoidable. In heart attacks, there is no golden hour, it is platinum minutes,"" Dr Sengottuvelu said. Santhosh came to Apollo Hospitals after five hours of the symptoms. Had the clot moved further down, he could have had a massive attack. If it had gone up to the brain, it could have caused a stroke.
A week after the surgery, Santhosh has now been declared fit for discharge. He will have to be on blood thinners for a long time. ""I am being counselled to kick the butt. I used to smoke five cigarettes a day. I will do my best to care for my mended heart,"" Santhosh said.
But many aren't as lucky as Santhosh. Three years ago, 29-year-old Vijay, who was taken to the hospital with severe chest pain and shoulder pain was treated for acid reflux. By the time doctors diagnosed a heart attack, it was too late. Vijay, a thin tall boy, who never smoked, died.
Heart attacks are the biggest killers in the country. Studies have shown that Indian hearts age faster than those of Westerners. Results of a 2010 study by Apollo Hospitals with the Indian Council of Medical Research found that some heart disorders including blood vessel blocks found in 35-year-old Indians are similar to those found in an average 60-year-old in the US. ""Indians are predisposed to heart diseases and the progression of the diseases is faster,"" said Dr. Prathap C Reddy, Chairman Apollo Hospitals Group. Nearly 40% of patients with heart attack die before they come to hospitals.