In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, there is a famous riddle contest between Yudhishthira and a Yaksha. All the Pandavas have been killed by Yaksha on account of their inability to answer his probing questions. The last man standing is Yudhishthira who tries to answer the perplexing queries of the Yaksha tactfully. His reply to one of the Yaksha’s puzzling questions as to what is the greatest wonder and mystery of the world is, that despite death being the ultimate truth and eventuality, we all believe that it would never come to us.

The myth about heart disease to has an analog to this riddle. Perhaps the greatest irony is that many of us tend to believe that we can never be at a grave risk of heart disease, despite the high probability of the disease. Many of us may even refuse to accept the fact that India has the largest number of heart attack patients in the world despite concrete evidence to that effect. With the advent of modern scientific research and application, it is very easy to find out the risk probability of getting a heart attack in next 10 years. Therefore, early proactive measures aimed at reducing the risk of the disease would drastically cut down this risk to an almost negligible level. Most people get confused with the various terms used to define heart disease and may erroneously even use these terms interchangeably for a specific ailment. Knowing the symptoms of each of them correctly would, therefore, increase our understanding of this common malady.

Heart attack.

This is a common term used to denote a condition when the blood supply to a heart muscle is blocked. It is usually caused by fatty deposits along with blockage by a blood clot in one of three arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. Early treatment is imperative as 50% of patients of a heart attack are likely to die in the very first hour if prompt and suitable health care are not provided. This condition is diagnosed by an Angiography and stenting or bypass surgery is the preferred methods of treatment.


Stroke has got nothing to do with the heart. It is similar to a heart attack but happens in the brain. The stroke could be Ischaemic or hemorrhagic. Prompt treatment saves life and disability. This is primarily a neurological emergency.

Heart failure.

This is usually the culmination of events leading to a malfunctioning of the pumping action of the heart muscle. The condition manifests itself in breathing difficulties, swelling over the body and easy fatiguability. This can be treated by drugs, pacemakers or surgery. If a heart attack is not treated properly and timely it could be one of the major contributory factors for developing heart failure later on.

Cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest is the cessation of all electrical activity of the heart. This is indicated by a flat line on the ECG. It is an emergency. The patient collapses rapidly and loses consciousness unless prompt cardiac massage and resuscitative procedures are not employed. Cardiac arrest is almost synonymous with death and thus it’s prompt detection is crucial in saving one’s life.

Legend has it that as Yudhishthira could answer all the questions of the Yaksha. The Yaksha was so pleased that he revived all the dead Pandavas. A parallel can thus be drawn between heart disease and this epic story, as solving the complex puzzle of this deadly disease can also result in longevity and an abundantly productive life thereafter.

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