Dual-role stress affects women’s heart
Dr Ashok Seth

Workplaces and families should build a support mechanism for women
Workplaces and families should build a support mechanism for women

Managing demands at work and home stresses a woman's heart. This stress affects more urban women every year, resulting in spurt in cardiovascular diseases at a much younger age

Women are pretty adept at multi-tasking — meeting deadlines on projects, managing a critical professional problem over the phone while packing the family's lunch boxes, checking their child's homework while ensuring the domestic help works properly, and reminding their spouses of important dates. They are also sleeping late, struggling to get up early, most of the time missing breakfast, skipping exercise only to fulfil the list of responsibilities that looms large over every day. Women in India, especially urban areas, are increasingly falling prey to serious health risks, given the multiple expectations that they are required to meet.

'State of the Indian heart', an analysis of trends in cardiac diseases conducted by the Fortis Escorts Heart Institute over the last 25 years, revealed some startling facts. Numbers indicate an alarming rise in cardiovascular diseases across all age groups. Of these is the worrying trend of cardiac diseases in women, with the percentage of women undergoing coronary artery bypass surgeries increasing from roughly 6 per cent in the late 1980s and early 1990s to approximately 15 per cent in the past 3-4 years. This amounts to a significant 150 per cent rise.

Changes in lifestyle, eating habits and lack of physical activity are all well-recognised factors, common to both men and women. However, managing multiple responsibilities and expectations puts women under considerable stress. Doing the balancing act leads to women doing not one, but two jobs a day 24/7. The medical fraternity has started terming this as 'dual-role stress'. An excess of pressure from all sides causes women to feel fatigued and often leads to anxiety and depression. This combination of physical and psychological factors is responsible for several health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, rise in cholesterol levels, thyroid imbalance, menstrual disturbances and heart disease.

Managing multiple responsibilities and expectations puts women under considerable stress

This worrisome situation not only indicates an impending health crisis in women but also, sounds the alarm bells for the health of the family as a whole. With cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and other co-morbidities making their appearance in the child-bearing age, doctors are also seeing a rise in complications in pregnancy, affecting the health of the foetus and the newborn.

But this is not to say that women must give up anything to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Experience has taught us that women are brilliant professionals, sometimes even better than their male counterparts, at problem-solving and project management. What we need is that workplaces and families should build a support mechanism that will enable women to function efficiently without putting needless stress on them. Some corporate houses have already shown the way by better talent planning, flexible and rationalised working hours and office crèches and concierge services. More organisations need to recognise the role women play and integrate employee-friendly policies to improve the work process. Healthy employees lead to better productivity and lower costs, both for the employer and employee.

Changes at home are, in fact, easier implement. Families must value women's financial independence and support their professional ambitions. Spouses, in-laws and even older children can help out with simple but time-consuming chores, freeing up some part of the day for them. They must also participate in women's health by encouraging them to eat healthy, exercise and rest, along with reminding them to get preventive health checks every year.

Women are wonderful partners in our progress. And they need just as much care as everyone else at home. Ask yourself this question every day, have you helped the women in your life live healthy today?

The writer is Chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, New Delhi