Photograph courtesy: Axel Drainville/Creative Commons
On September 15, it was reported that 42-year-old Clifford Samuel died after suffering a cardiac arrest around 15,500 feet above sea level, while on the Harsil-Kyarkoti-Lamkhaga pass trek. Considered one of the most challenging treks on the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, the trek takes you through altitudes as high as 17,335 feet. The Lamkhaga pass that connects northeast Garhwal to Himachal Pradesh is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and the journey takes you through steep slopes over ice and scree. It’s an exhilarating experience, with views of glaciers, peaks, lush green valleys and boundless snow. But Samuel’s death reminds us that it is also dangerous. Cardiac arrest is, in fact, one of the top three causes of death in the outdoors. Also Read - Viral Video: Deer Runs Across Empty Street in Dehradun Amid Coronavirus Lockdown
You cannot, and should not, escape the call of the mountains. When adventure beckons you, you should heed the call. But you shouldn’t ignore the signs of your health either. The fact is that the typical mountain climbing victim is actually 40-something people who exercises in the weekends and focus on staying as active as they were in their youth. It’s a good thing, but if you fall in that demographic you should be looking closely at your heart health. The altitude and cold weather, together with the sheer physical effort it takes to trek, can put stress on your heart. Factors like obesity, smoking and a family history of cardiac problems may make things worse. Studies have shown that trekking does reduce the risk of heart attack, but you need to heed the advise below to stay as safe as you can. ALSO READ: Top 10 easy Himalayan treks for beginners Also Read - 'Hum Ghar Par Rukenge': Uttarakhand Govt Releases Poster Urging People to Stay Indoors
Trekkers on the Chadar trail in Ladakh
The biggest predictor of a heart attack is actually your family, so check if your family members have had a history of heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions. That is valid even if you haven’t touched a cigarette in your life. Another thing to check: cholesterol levels. Higher levels can increase the risk of heart attack threefold, so check to see if your cholesterol and blood pressure levels are normal. If you are an at-risk person, get an exercise stress test before you go on super-challenging treks. Also Read - Uttarakhand Chief Justice Slips, Nearly Drowns Into Strong River Current at Sangam
Prevention is always better
You know the old adage. You can reduce your risk of cardiac problems with a combination of exercise and diet. Talk to your doctor for medication and before changing up your diet, but opt for one that includes fewer trans-fat. Under-fit trekkers have a higher risk of sudden cardiac arrest, so work on your fitness levels and adjust your goals according to your age. CHECK OUT: What is AMS and How to Prepare for Acclimatization When Heading to the Himalayas
The Padum trekking trail in Ladakh
Stay alert on the trek
Many heart attacks happen in the morning, so avoid going all out right at the start of the day and pepper your trek with frequent rest stops. Ease into your trek, and take more breaks if you are gaining elevation. If you are an at-risk patient, talk to your doctor about taking medicines that widen blood vessels to avoid an attack, like nitrogylcerin.
Look out for signs of cardiac problems
Always be on the lookout for signs of heart problems. Intermittent pain in the center of the chest, shortness of breath, and feeling of increased pressure or squeezing in the chest, are signs to look out for. The discomfort can also be felt in other parts of your upper body, like your shoulders, arms, back or neck, or even your stomach or jaw. For women, signs can include fatigue, nausea and pained breathing. Don’t push yourself or shrug away these issues. Many often do that, thinking that they are simple aches or cases of indigestion or heartburn. NOW READ: Here are 5 Things You MUST Do Before Going On A Trek
Get treated quickly
If you feel these signs and have a risk of cardiac problems, get medical care as soon as you can and stop your ascent. You can buy some time by chewing on aspirin tablets, but consult your doctor to get more specific medication that prevents or slows down heart problems. Learn CPR and travel with a group that has people who know it; it can save your life and others in your group.