Lifestyle cause of sudden surge in deaths among young adults, not Covid vaccines, says ICMR study

Sudden heart attacks are not linked to Covid-19 vaccines, says ICMR as it lists the risk factors that do play a key role in the current environment.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Nov 22, 2023 | 9:35 AMUpdatedNov 22, 2023 | 9:35 AM

It has been longed believed by some that the Covid-19 vaccine is the reason for sudden explained deaths among youngsters. (Creative Commons)

An increasing number of young adults dying due to sudden heart attacks is not related to Covid-19 vaccinations, said a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

In response to a surge of unexplained heart attack deaths among young adults in India, a much-anticipated study was initiated, early this year, driven by public speculation linking these incidents to Covid-19 vaccinations.

This comprehensive study was aimed at understanding the actual causes behind the alarming trend and assessing the role, if any, of the Covid-19 vaccines.

“There was a lot of apprehension among people about vaccines leading to an increase in sudden deaths. Several reports were coming out. Therefore, it was important to undertake this study and empirically show that sudden death is not linked to vaccinations,” said Dr Manoj Murhekar, corresponding author of the study.

Study analysed 729 deaths

ICMR conducted the study across 47 tertiary care hospitals in India, focusing on individuals aged 18 to 45 years who died suddenly and without apparent cause. The researchers claim to have carefully matched each case with four controls based on age, gender, and neighborhood, ensuring a robust analysis.

The researchers studied 729 deaths recorded in apparently healthy 18-45-year-olds between October 2021 and March 2023. The data was compared to that of 2,916 healthy individuals of the same age, gender, and living in similar conditions.

Contrary to public fears, the analysis found that Covid-19 vaccination significantly reduced the risk of sudden, unexplained death.

Specifically, the odds of such an event occurring in vaccinated individuals were notably lower, with an adjusted matched odds ratio (OR) of 0.58 for those who received at least one vaccine dose. This protective effect was even more pronounced in individuals who had received two doses.

Also read: Is the surge in conjunctivitis cases due to new Covid-19 strain?

Why are youngsters getting heart attacks?

The research identified several lifestyle factors that have increased the risk of sudden death. These include a history of Covid-19 hospitalisation, family history of sudden death, binge drinking, recreational drug use, and engaging in vigorous-intensity physical activities within 48 hours of the event.

The study explains that “the pathways through which Covid-19 may cause sudden deaths are not well understood currently”, however studies have shown that the infection might lead to an increase in heart disease and stroke through other mechanisms, including the virus attacking the heart muscle cells and lining of blood vessels, said the study.

Meanwhile, the study found that a patient with a family history of sudden death was almost three times more likely to be associated with unexplained sudden death, says the study.

“Smoking habits were two times more likely to cause sudden deaths and binge drinking 48 hours before a cardiac event was six times more likely to increase risks, even vigorous physical activity 48 hours prior to an episode had three times more chances of sudden death,” the study noted.

Also read: Delhi study says no evidence of Covid vaccines increasing heart attack risk

Vaccines indeed helped, says study

Breakdown of the ICMR study. (IMA Telangana)

Breakdown of the ICMR study. (IMA Telangana)

The study concluded that Covid-19 vaccination does not increase the risk of unexplained sudden death among young adults in India. Instead, it plays a protective role and the actual risk factors lie in certain lifestyle choices and medical history.

The study insists that vaccines instead reduced the risk of deaths.

The study said, “Receipt of at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine lowered the odds for unexplained sudden death [0.58 (0.37, 0.92)], whereas past Covid-19 hospitalization [3.8 (1.36, 10.61)], family history of sudden death [2.53 (1.52, 4.21)], binge drinking 48 h before death/interview [5.29 (2.57, 10.89)], use of recreational drug/substance [2.92 (1.1, 7.71)] and performing vigorous-intensity physical activity 48 h before death/interview [3.7 (1.36, 10.05)] were positively associated.”

It also said that two doses lowered the odds of unexplained sudden death [0.51 (0.28, 0.91)], whereas a single dose did not.

Also read: Can chewing on ginger save you from dying during a heart attack?

What do doctors say?

Commenting on the study, Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, Co-Chairman, National Indian Medical Association Covid Task Force, tells South First that ICMR’s latest study is a case control study that looked for reasons why apparently healthy young adults died suddenly.

To identify potential risk factors they compared these individuals to a group of controls with similar background and age and checked if exposure to certain risk factors was greater among people who died or control group.

They found that people who smoked, engaged in binge drinking or did strenuous exercises in the recent past, had greater risk of death. And people who were vaccinated had lower chance of death.

Dr Jayadevan says, “It is not a new phenomenon that young adults die. India has an extremely large young adult population, 50 percent of India’s population is below the age of 28. Previous studies from India had examined the risk factors for sudden deaths among young adults.”

The risk factors identified by ICMR, including family history, tobacco use, and binge alcohol consumption are well established risk factors for young adults deaths.

The ICMR study refutes the widely prevalent claims circulating on social media that Covid-19 vaccination is the cause of sudden deaths amongst young people, Dr Jayadevan says.

Also read: Does drinking bottle gourd juice help in treating a heart attack?

‘Avoid strenuous exercises after Covid-19’

Dr Jayadevan says that Covid-19 is not the common cold.

“Even though the virus enters through a respiratory route, it enters various organs of the body, including the brain and the blood vessels, causing an assortment of clinical features that could linger for several years in a good number of individuals,” he notes.

“It’s ability to cause damage to the lining of our blood vessels is the widely cited reason for increased risk of cardiovascular events among people who have survived Covid in the past. When other risk factors also are added on top of this, the chance of having a cardiac event will be so much greater,” he explains.

Regarding exercise, Dr Jayadevan says that it is better to avoid strenuous exercises if you’ve had a severe bout of Covid.

However, those who have had mild Covid infections and otherwise healthy individuals can get back to their exercise routines.

Dr Jayadevan says that when it comes to jogging, swimming, and cycling, it is better to be gentle and slow at the beginning and it is important to listen to the body very carefully before accelerating to pre-Covid levels of exercise.

He calls exercise a long-term investment and adds that a few weeks’ break from strenuous exercises is not going to harm anyone’s health.

“Given the accumulating evidence, it is better to avoid strenuous exercise after a Covid-19 infection until it is cleared by the doctor,” he advises.