The World Congress on Acute Heart Failure is currently taking place here in Athens, Greece and two studies were presented by cardiologists Dimitra Papadimitriou and Alexios Samentzas showing that there has been an increase in hospital admissions during the crisis for heart attacks and atrial fibrillation (the most common type of heart arrhythmia-irregular heart rate ). The researchers compared a period before the crisis and the period when the financial crisis began until to 2012. The results showed that there has been an increase in heart attacks, but it was statistically significant only for women. The heart attack increase was also noticed for people under the age of 45, but again only statistically significant for women. The second study measuring arrhythmias, also showed that there was an increase in hospital admissions, again mainly for women.
The researchers mention stress as a reason, they also note that people with a lower quality of life tend to follow an unhealthy diet, do not exercise and may continue or start smoking. Finally they conclude that: “The upsurge in heart attacks during the crisis are a wake-up call for doctors and health systems to advise patients how to live healthily and reduce their cardiovascular risk”.
A wake up call indeed
It is tragic that a country where heart disease was once such a rare disease (it was actually unheard of) to have young women under the age of 45 admitted for a heart attack. But let’s not kid ourselves, sure the crisis has something to do with this, but what about the lifestyle? For years now Greeks and other Mediterranean countries are eating junk food (crisis or no crisis) and getting overweight and sick, data shows that 1 out of 2 Greek adults is overweight.
Unfortunately, for so long the healthcare system not only in Greece, but in other countries focuses on treatment rather than prevention. Funding here in Greece continuously goes into medical treatments of obesity rather than prevention and change of lifestyle. How should the health system advise patients to live healthily? What does that mean? Most of the times patients receive generic advice to stop eating fat. Diabetics are given a generic print-out of a diet while overweight and obese patients are often told that they need to treat their obesity “medically” the insurance will pay for it after all, so why not? Instead of changing lifestyle, the option of an easy solution through surgery or a pill sounds much more appealing.
So yes, a wake up call. Here in Greece little is being done at this time to really educate, encourage and help the population eat healthier. The home of the Mediterranean diet has given in to highly processed foods, the food industry pushing (with the help of the government) their own agenda and the crisis making everything even more difficult to deal with.