Cherojit Goswami
Her Heart Matters

This article was written by Cherojit Goswami, Senior Vice President of Ogilvy Health, and first published on ET BrandEquity.

Superwoman, Sheroes, Health Guardian of the Family are some of the monikers that have been crafted over the last decade to edify the Indian women. They are the brainchild of the branding, marketing, and communications raternity. While the thinking may be partially true, it lands up doing a lot of disservice to the women folk. It almost depicts the woman as the insurmountable force that can overcome every challenge and solve all problems. In this façade, her health and the related problems are insidious and get ignored.

We have made some progress with the gynaecological, orthopaedic and oncology related ailments, especially for breast, ovarian and cervical cancer. However, women’s heart health still needs a lot of work to be done. This is true because of the myths, misinformation and negligence related to her heart health. Heart disease is always looked upon as a man’s disease. However, the fact remains that every year in India more women die of heart disease and other related ailments than men.

Advt Let’s have a look at some of the physiological factors that lead to women having higher mortality and morbidity rates from heart diseases.

Post Menopausal Women — Natural estrogen protects the heart. However, with declining estrogen levels post menopause, a woman’s risk of heart disease surpasses that of a man. The LDL (bad cholesterol) levels are also higher with the particles being smaller, denser, and more harmful and so too are the triglycerides levels. Conversely the HDL (good cholesterol) levels are lower.

Pregnancy Complications — High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase women’s long-term risk of development of heart disease in mothers.Cardiac output, which is the amount of blood your heart pumps each minute goes up during pregnancy. By 28 to 34 weeks, the cardiac output may increase by 30% to 50%. This is because of the higher blood volume and faster heart rate. This could sometimes lead to shortage of breath (dyspnea) and sensation of a fast heartbeat (palpitations).

Obesity — Females in India from affluent families are more prone to being overweight and obese than their male counterparts. This coupled with sedentary lifestyles, domestic help carrying out the household work and unhealthy food habits accentuates the problems even further. In the absence of early interventions, this can lead to long term heart health issues.

And if the above weren’t enough, certain cultural stereotypes and unsaid family rules compound the problems for the women.

Health Guardian of the family, but her own health is ignored — The biggest irony of our times. The parents/in-laws,husband, kids, and the pet too – the woman of the house takes care of everyone’s health requirement. However, the first supplement to drop off the list when the budget exceeds is hers. The multitasking, busy schedule are always the stated reasons for postponing her health check-up.So, who takes care of her health?

Preventive recommendation on heart health is overlooked-The right cooking oils, health breakfast cereals and a diet plan charted by a nutritionist are considered sacrosanct when it comes to heart health. While it does work, preventive medical recommendations, especially when it comes to heart health for the women gets ignored. The ‘it can’t happen to me ‘and the ‘we will tackle it when it happens’ mindset are the bane of many problems.

29th September is celebrated as World Heart Day and the World Heart Federation over the years has done yeoman work to spread awareness on heart health.The theme this year is . It is about using the power of knowledge to tackle the heart diseases and the related ailments.

However, the challenges in India and more so for women are very varied. The government, health authorities, the NGOs and the healthcare companies are doing their bit. It will however need a lot more relentless, concerted efforts and some out of the box thinking to address the heart health issues for women.

So here is some left field thinking that I am putting down. It may vary from being simplistic to bordering on improbable to ‘am I out of my mind’.

Exclusive diagnostic and pathology lab for women The diagnostic and pathology industry has grown tremendously in the past two decades. Access to technology, trained staff, and the knowledge wherewithalhas also increased. However, one thing that is missing and is the need of the hour is women specific diagnostic and pathology labs. This would make it convenient, comfortable, and less anxious for the women to seek health check-ups.The walk-ins would increase, there can be more productive conversations around women health,and we can have dedicated sessions on raising awareness on heart health.The set up, the mindset, the interactions can become very conducive and make women more receptive to paying attention to handling their heart health issues.

His Pledge for Her Heart: To show gratitude on specific days like Women’s Day, Mother’s Day etc are fleeting and more for the social media. To demonstrate long term care needs commitment and planning. How about creating a community of dedicated men which includes fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons who pledge their solidarity and support to taking care of the heart of the women in the house. This would mean ensuring the tests are done on time, diet is followed, and the treatment is adhered to. The community can share stories to inspire more men to take the pledge.Philips did a campaign called HIM – Husband Initiated Movement to spread awareness on breast cancer wherein the husband nudged the wife to do a self-diagnosis. This helped in early detection and hence the right prognosis.

A National on-ground activation campaign — How about having a day of the week dedicated to conducting camps for spreading awareness about heart health for women. The Government will have to take the lead and be ably supported by pharmaceutical companies, diagnostic labs,and medical devices organisations. A lot of companies are doing it, but they are isolated or centered around specific days. This will need a sustained effort- something like a ‘Her Heart Saturday’ which will require a collaboration between the aforementioned organisations. It will be particularly beneficial for rural women who are still oblivious to their heart health issues.

We will need to start small but be consistent and persistent. The challenges, barriers and obstacles can be plenty. But the intent to make it happen for the ‘Women of the House’ should roughshod the impediments.

So, while we can continue to glorify, deify, and celebrate the women, fundamentally her health is still not a priority. And her heart health even more so. She is and will continue to be the heart of the family.

It is time we do something about hers too.

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