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exercisingMedical experts have classified cardiovascular disease which includes heart attack and stroke as the number one cause of death worldwide. But lifestyle changes – healthy living and diet could put these medical conditions at bay.
The traffic along Malu Road at the Mobil depot in Marine Beach, Apapa was light as motorists made their way out of Ajegunle, diverting to different destinations – Apapa Port, Ijora course way from where some move on to the Lagos Island.
The traffic light turned green, an indication for vehicles which had earlier been stopped to move, but the car of a journalist, Peter Ohia did not move.
While some impatient motorists that queued behind him blared their horns as a warning to give way, some pedestrians dashed towards the car that was motionless to find out if all was well with the fellow behind the wheel.
On close observation, one of the pedestrians who was first to get to him, found the man to have slumped behind the wheel. On a second thought, he shouted, “help; help, this driver is dead. Other onlookers quickly dashed towards the car and attempted to resuscitate the man who was not known by those that clustered around him.
Although, he was promptly rushed to a nearby hospital, doctors on duty pronounced him dead on arrival. With the identification card found on him, sympathizers traced his office in Apapa and alerted his employers of the tragic event.
Being in his early 40s, Ohia’s sudden death threw his relations, colleagues and friends into shock. Autopsy report issued days later showed that the cause of death was heart attack.
Similarly, during a distant journey which took a retired Major, Kaleb Joel travelling from Lagos to Abuja in early February, he experienced a heart attack and before medical help reached him, he gave up. During the journey in which Joel drove in company with his dear wife, Jane, the duo arrived Lokoja when Jane observed that her husband had lost control of the moving Prado Jeep in which the couple travelled.
Sadly, she was helpless as the vehicle in which they travelled somersaulted numerous times. By the time the jeep became motionless, Kaleb had died.
The result of the autopsy was clear: Joel had suffered a heart attack. Although, episodes of heart attacks has become very common in the Nigerian environment in recent time, a Consultant Cardiologist at the General Hospital Ifako-Ijaiye, Dr. Gbolade Taiwo Lasisi, while admitting that heart attacks were common in this clime, noted that data to show its prevalence is not available.
“We do not have Heart Failure Registry which hospitals in developed countries use to record for every death from heart attacks. A heart attack is caused by a blockage in a blood vessel that interrupts the flow of blood causing an area of the heart muscle to die.
This causes a “blood backup” in the heart, similar to a backup in a plumbing line in a house. The heart must be “unclogged,” with drug therapy or surgery, in order to continue the blood flow to the rest of the body.
Heart attacks are usually acute events. The most common reason for this is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels that supply the heart or brain. Another cardiologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos, Dr. Afolabi Akinkunmi, said 60 per cent of people with heart attacks die before getting to the hospital and for those who even make it to the hospital, over 50 per cent still die because the damage has already been done.
The Executive Director of Nigeria Heart Foundation (NHF), Dr. Kingsley Akinroye said, cardiovascular disease which generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke, is the number one cause of death worldwide.
Risk factors Lasisi said age is a factor just as genetic factor is also very relevant. In countries where people live longer, there is bound to be higher prevalence. “Prevalence increases with age as heart attacks starts increasing from the age of 40 years and above,” he added.
Similarly, he noted that heart attacks can run in families. Once a family has issues of heart attack, people should watch out for some siblings in that lineage that may develop heart attack early in life. Speaking on the burden of heart attack in the country, he said, “We are particularly recording episodes from people in their youthful years especially people in their 40s and middle age.
However, he said in the nearest future, if life expectancy of Nigerians improves and the populace does not curtail its current unhealthy lifestyle and diet, then, “the prevalence of heart attack may go out of hand.” On why younger people are presently coming down with heart attacks, he said diet in this clime is high in saturated fat.
Other factors driving the high prevalence of heart attacks among youths include sedentary lifestyle, smoking, obesity, uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes that are not well managed.
The combination of all these which are common in our environment is responsible for the high prevalence of heart attacks, he said. For Nigerians to take measures to prevent heart attacks, Lasisi said they must understand what heart attack is.
He said, “When somebody dies, most people often say the death is caused by a heart attack.” However, he said literarily, what cardiologists and other health professionals refer to as heart attack is a situation where there is a blockage of the artery supplying blood to any part of the heart.
(Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood. Referring to that blockage as a spectrum, he said it does not occur in a day. The blockage would have built up over the years and that is why heart attacks are hardly seen in people that are less than 40 years.
“The spectrum is that cholesterol or plaque buildup in these arteries over the years; it is the blockage of these arteries that cause the problems,” he said. According to the consultant cardiologist, people should similarly understand that heart attacks may not show any symptoms. However when it shows symptoms, it may vary.
These symptoms may come in four ways: *it may present as a stable angina, which means that the person develops chest pain; it may present as unstable angina, which means the chest pain could develop even at rest but gets less severe in less than 10 minutes; or it may present as a heart attack itself which is when there is complete occlusion and the chest pain persists and the areas supplied by that artery is destroyed.
“We should also understand that in some cases, the episode may present as cardiac arrest or what is called sudden cardiac death,” Lasisi added.
(Complete occlusion is total blockage of an artery). “Once heart attack has occurred, two things can happen. With treatment, an affected person can have heart failure and he would nurse it for the rest of his life or it may lead to death,” Lasisi said.
Therefore, he noted that the best way to address heart attack with a view to reduce its prevalence is to prevent plaque from developing in the artery.
Signs to watch out for Lasisi said the build up to a heart attack is a spectrum. Affected person could have a plaque in the artery may have been narrowed by at least 50 per cent. “If such persons engage in exercise or exert themselves, they will experience discomfort.
“With little exertion such as climbing stair case or brisk walk, they could develop heaviness or discomfort in the chest. “For some people, walking or even little effort can trigger discomfort. Those are symptoms that are likely to affect a person that could have a heart attack.”
Similarly, for persons who have impending heart attack, the persons would develop chest pain that would not even go down and they would be sweating, said the consultant cardiologist.
According to him, the heart attack could occur while they are at rest and during such episodes, you could see affected persons putting fist in the chest, and the pain could move to their throat or move to the root of the neck or the left upper limp.
“These are practical issues. The pain would not even go down; it could last for over 10 minutes. This is a prerequisite that things like this could be a heart attack, he added. Prevention Part of the prevention strategies is to screen those that have plaques, Lasisi said.
According to him, through screening those with plaque in their arteries are detected and heart specialists could prevent their progression. The consultant cardiologist said the basic issue that could prevent heart attack is lifestyle changes.
He recommended regular exercise including brisk walk for most part of the week. Such exercise could last for about thirty minutes at least four times per week. “This will reduce most of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and not only heart attack.”
He noted that diet, too is very important. “People should learn to eat balanced diet that is low in saturated fat including saturated fat that is in animal fat. If diet is low in saturated fat, the likelihood of cholesterol depositing in the arteries will be low.”
Similarly, he said basic things such as checks for blood pressure, diabetes and blood cholesterol are important. “If people can do these screenings, it can go a long way in preventing heart attacks,” he added. (Culled from New Telegraph)

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