Why I had a heart attack at 33 despite regular exercise & healthy eating habits

September 29, 2022 at 3:20 PM

By Vidya Raja

I had a heart attack on 16 December 2019, when I was 33 years old. This is definitely not an age that one usually associates with heart attacks. I am Ram and through this article, I am going to tell you what it was like when I had a heart attack.

As an infrastructure sector professional, I work with an MNC and have been posted in central India for the last five years. I often get asked if my job is stressful. After the heart attack, I have spent large amounts of time trying to understand whether or not I would call my work stressful. I am in a typical corporate job and with that comes a certain amount of stress, but personally I would not attribute much to it.

2019 – A Different Year For Me

It was a year of many changes, my wife delivered a baby, and with that came a huge change in the schedule that I was used to following up until then. I remember people telling me that childbirth does bring a lot of changes, but they said that was part and parcel of life. And so I moved on.

I was constantly feeling restless, lethargic, and my energy levels were constantly at a low. I attributed it all to lack of proper sleep given that there was a new baby in the house. Not for once did I stop to think that what I was feeling could be the result of something else happening within the body.

On The Day Of The Heart Attack

It was a Monday morning and I was getting into the week after having spent a very good weekend with my wife and child. I woke up as usual at around 6.00 am and by 7.30 am I started getting ready for work. By 9.30 am I was done with breakfast, which was my standard dalia porridge. In the next half an hour I was in the office at my desk.

It was a cold day in Bhopal and as I parked my car in the office parking lot and started walking towards the building I felt very uneasy. I started to feel breathless; I got to my seat, sat down, and opened up my laptop to start the day. Through all this I was feeling breathless and eventually I reclined my chair and started actively trying to get in more breaths.

Nothing helped.

The Watch On My Left Hand Started Feeling Heavy

My left hand, on which I had worn a watch, was feeling so heavy that I was unable to even lift it. Soon after I started feeling a ‘pins and needles’ like sensation in my left hand and that led to cramps in my left hand. It was like my fingers were frozen and I was not even able to move them at all.

Around this time my colleagues started noticing my discomfort. The doctor in the office was called in and asked my colleagues to rush me to the hospital since my pulse rate was falling. I was put on a chair with wheels and my colleagues managed to wheel me out of the office.

The hospital was about fifteen minutes away and that period was extremely uncomfortable for me. I was in and out of consciousness but all through kept telling myself to take long breaths.

Wheeled Into The Emergency Room

I was able to comprehend and answer most of the questions that the doctors were asking me. I even remember giving my phone passcode to a colleague so they could call and inform my wife about my condition. My ECG was the first thing that was checked and that was when they found that I had suffered a heart attack.

I was wheeled into the operation theatre and an emergency surgery was done. The pain that had started from my left hand had now spread to all over my body and I felt as though I had been given an electric shock. The LAD artery, considered to be one amongst the three most important coronary arteries in the body, was completely blocked and the doctors mentioned post-surgery that what I had experienced was a major heart attack.

Immense Pain Through The Surgery

The level of pain I experienced all through is not something that I can even put in words. It was only after about an hour or so post-surgery that I felt some kind of relief from the pain. There were two stents that were placed in the LAD artery as well.

When the angiography was done there were other blockages also that were found. I had almost 95 per cent blockages in other arteries and therefore I was advised to go through yet another angioplasty as soon as possible to fix those blockages as well.

Post the surgeries I was put on various medications, I pop in at least ten pills a day now. From medicines for blood pressure to cholesterol and blood thinners, I have been prescribed so many. None of which I needed to take pre-surgery.

I Was Fairly Fit

I was not overweight, have been lean and even my BMI at the time of the heart attack was at 25, which is not alarming. No one looking at me would consider me unfit or a candidate who is likely to have a heart attack.

For a year before my heart attack I was very regular at the gym, would be able to run on the treadmill, and even my stamina levels were very good. In fact even a few months prior to the heart attack I could comfortably climb upto six floors without huffing and puffing.

I never felt that I had any physical symptoms, especially with regard to my breathing or ability to workout almost until two months before the heart attack. I had lost a good amount of weight by doing strength training, weights, and cardio. After the heart attack my trainers at the gym was surprised and even shocked that I could have gone through something like this.

Two Months Before The Heart Attack

To think back, there were some symptoms. I started feeling dizzy after small physical movements, like for example when I would get out of my car and walk towards my office building. However, it would pass quickly and therefore I did not give it much thought. Looking back I remember feeling bloated on several occasions and when I look at old pictures, I am able to make that out.

I also started developing a lot of dark circles around the same time. Frequent headaches during the last three months were also a given. However, all this can also very well be attributed to being a new parent and could be a side effect of not getting enough rest and having to wake up at all odd hours.

For almost seven years I have been prone to acidity and that ensured that I ate healthy, and had most of my meals at home. I tried not to miss my meals or change the times of the meal too much to ensure that I stayed fine. I did consult a doctor and it was diagnosed to be GERD, a gastric related issue, wherein the stomach produces more acid than needed. With medications the symptoms would decrease but it was something that kept coming back.

Later, after my heart attack, doctors mentioned that I was perhaps confusing the angina pain to be acidity.

My Biggest Takeaway

For me, this entire episode reiterated the fact that we take our bodies for granted. We have a very typical notion that until and unless one is about 40 or 45 years of age, medical issues do not crop up, and especially not ailments related to the heart. I was conscious about working out, eating right, and doing everything to stay fit, and yet I suffered a heart attack.

We do not know what is going on within our bodies, and that is what I have learnt, albeit the hard way. Age is not something that can be linked to a heart attack. So many factors, which include lifestyle and genetics, play a part in it. It is almost like we are sitting on a time-bomb and until it goes off everything is fine, so the best way to help yourself is periodic health checks and monitoring all health parameters.

– Ram, As Told To Vidya Raja

Doctor Speaks

Dr Subash Chandhar (MD) (DM), a practicing cardiologist at the Venkateswara Hospital, Chennai helps us understand what a heart attack is and how we can stay alert. In this article, he says, “During a heart attack, the patient’s heart loses the ability to pump blood only partially and continues with lower efficiency allowing the first hour for medical aid. However, during a cardiac arrest, the heart stops functioning owing to issues in the electrical system of the heart that disrupts the pumping ability.”

Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing heart
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Uneasy feeling

Dr Udgeath Dhir, Director and Head, CTVS, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram has this to say

You could also consider joining India: Heart Attack & Heart Disease Support Group, an online community started by Ram, to help others going through heart concerns.