TALKING HEARTS WITH DR. JYOTI BHATTARAI
“The government is already providing free medicines for blood pressure and diabetes for the poor. Additionally, there are several non-profit organizations like Jayanti Memorial Trust, Rotary International and Samjhana Trust for heart diseases which have been working tirelessly to provide awareness and treatment to the needy. What we see is just the tip of the iceberg”
Coronary artery diseases, congestive heart failure, heart attacks and other heart related issues are often pegged as problems persisting primarily amongst the male populous. However, the fact that women also suffer from cardiovascular complications is often completely overshadowed. Statistics tell an alarming story. Studies show that one in three women suffer from heart disease. That’s approximately one woman every minute.
Jayanti Memorial Trust (JMT) have been campaigning “GO RED FOR WOMEN” for the past two years to spread awareness about the susceptibility of heart disease in women. (More info on pg. 12). Often deemed a disease plaguing the male gender, the statistics came as a revelation of the gravity of the situation at hand. JMT directed us to the person who could tell us more about this issue: Dr. Jyoti Bhattara.
Dr. Jyoti Bhattarai is the perfect example of success and humility. At the pinnacle of her career, her down to earth nature still makes you feel welcome and affable. An endocrinologist by profession, after completing her MBBS from IOM and heading to the United States for her MD, Dr. Bhattarai returned to her homeland to make a difference.
“I see patients with diabetes and hormonal problems. Since there a very high risk of getting various cardiovascular diseases and stroke, I am also involved in cardiology. My focus is mainly on preventive health. Hence every time I see a patient, I am not only trying to treat them, I am also giving them advice on preventing further complications of heart attacks and strokes.”
A woman of determination and substance, TNM gets in conversation with her to know more about her endeavors.
In your opinion, what is the general heart health condition of the people in Nepal?
It could definitely be much better than it is now. Because of our changing lifestyles, environmental factors and genetic condition, we are in the population group which is prone to non-communicable diseases. Our ignorance on the matter presses on the increasing number of heart cases in Nepal. And it is sad that even young people in their 30s and 40s are suffering from such conditions.
Do you get more male patients over female patients?
In general, heart diseases and strokes happen to men, but if you focus on the demographic consisting of diabetic patients, women tend to have more heart attacks than men. Before menopause, women are protected against these diseases by their female hormones to some extent, but after menopause, their risk of getting a heart disease becomes the same as that of men. So it would be justifiable to say that we get more male patients since women are themselves protected by their internal hormones till a certain age.
People in rural areas seem to ignore their heart problems. What do you think is the reason for this reluctance?
I agree. Our priority in Nepal so far has been about infectious diseases like tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid, but we need to realize that lifestyle diseases like blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes are prevalent and do not show symptoms until it’s too late. There are symptoms of chest pressure, vague neck discomfort and heart burn, but patients tend to ignore them thinking it is nothing serious. This ignorance leads to cases of sudden cardiac deaths. On the bright side, the government is now starting to give attention to this and efforts are being done to alert the public about these issues.
What are the main issues pertaining to preventing heart diseases that people need to be more knowledgeable about?
Well, there are several things that should be taken care of. Since our genetic condition is inherited from our parents, we cannot alter that. However, we can keep track of other risk factors and modify our lifestyles so that we minimize the risks. The first step to this would be to adopt a ‘no smoking’ lifestyle. Apart from that, one should maintain a fiber-rich diet. Junk food should be avoided and one’s waistline should be kept under constant check. General rule of thumb says that the waistline mustn’t be more than 80 cms in women and 90 cms in men. Apart from that, regular exercise is important as it keeps your bodily functions efficient.
What efforts are being made to make people more aware about these diseases?
Several efforts are being made, not just from the government, but from the social sector as well. The government is already providing free medicines for blood pressure and diabetes for the poor. Additionally, there are several non-profit organizations like Jayanti Memorial Trust, Rotary International and Samjhana Trust for heart diseases which have been working tirelessly to provide awareness and treatment to the needy. What we see is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more to it and proper awareness must be done.
Would it be imperative to say that the focus must be given to the poor?
Of course! The educated population will learn about it in school, but the less fortunate might not even know what they are suffering from before it’s too late. They feel the latent symptoms, but try to ignore them due to financial reasons, and when the situation worsens, the treatment becomes costly.
Often people see their doctors at the last second. What are the signs one should look out for?
Sadly, heart diseases don’t come with concrete warnings, but if you have chest pressure, breathing difficulties, neck pressure or heart burn, you should see a doctor. My recommendation would be to start seeing your doctor on a regular basis once you cross forty years of age and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
So what keeps a heart healthy?
Not smoking, eating a fiber-rich diet and keeping stress under check is what I think keeps a heart healthy!
Photographed by : Jenish Rajbhandari