Recent research reveals that about 220 million people across the world experience one heart problem or the other at a particular time in life. According to a WHO data, by 2020, major heart illness will be the principal cause of death in the world, especially among men. The economic cost of untreated heart illness is more than 150 billion dollars each year in the United States. Thus, if not properly addressed, heart related illness could as well turn out to be a time bomb waiting to burst in an already distressed world.
Of late, cardiac arrest has become a prominent source of medical concern across the world. Globally, cardiac arrest is a foremost cause of death as it is annually responsible for no less than 7 million deaths. It is important to emphasize that cardiac arrest differs from heart attack. Heart attack (also called myocardial infarction or MI) occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart is reduced or completely blocked, resulting in damage or death of part of the heart muscle. During a heart attack, a victim may be conscious and can complain about symptoms they experience. The person may be awake and the heart is still beating.
In contrast, in a sudden cardiac arrest, there is an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes it to suddenly stop beating. The casualty will abruptly lose awareness. Sudden cardiac arrest is delicate, and onlookers will usually notice what has occurred. Curiously, most cardiac arrest patients never survive it. Except, there is the possibility of vital intervention, survival chances are often very minimal. However, an intervention as simple as chest compression may be life-saving if started immediately.
Sudden cardiac arrest symptoms are instant and severe. It includes sudden collapse, no pulse, no breathing and loss of consciousness. However, other symptoms often pave the way for sudden cardiac arrest. These possibly will include fatigue, fainting, blackouts, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, palpitations or vomiting. A family history of coronary artery disease, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive intake of alcohol, nutritional imbalance, such as low potassium or magnesium levels, using of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis etc could also increase the risk of cardiac arrest.
In Nigeria, the risk of cardiac arrest is becoming quite alarming. According to available statistics, a reasonable proportion of critical admission cases in most public health facilities in the country are heart related. And surprisingly, the elites and those who engage in physical sports are becoming more and more involved in cases of fatal cardiac arrest. Not too long ago, the country lost two of her most industrious sports personalities, Stephen Keshi and Shuaib Amodu, to cardiac arrest.
Usually, a diagnosis of cardiac arrest is made in the absence of carotid pulse in a patient who is unconscious. Furthermore, numerous tests can also be carried out to detect the underlying cause of cardiac arrest in order to prevent a recurrence among survivors. Such investigations include electrocardiography to diagnose the pattern of arrhythmia, echocardiography, toxicology screening and so on.
Steps to take in order to reduce the risk of cardiac arrest include regular checkups, screening for heart disease and living a heart-healthy standard of living such as saying no to smoking, taking alcohol in moderation or staying outrightly away from it, eating a nutritious balanced diet, getting involved in regular physical exercise and a host of others.
Health educators insist that embracing a healthy lifestyle, especially in terms of eating habit could really go a long way in enhancing a healthy heart. Such eating habit being prescribed includes consumption of fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk; fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, trout, about twice a week. Also, regular intake of fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and watermelon as well as legumes such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and carrots is highly recommended. Adults in particular are equally advised to consciously avoid the consumption of too much red meat, excessive oily and salty stuffs, sugary foods, saturated fat, baked and processed foods.
Perhaps, more importantly is the fact that Nigerians need to cultivate the culture of taking out time to rest and relax regularly. In as much as it is true that the times are a bit tough, it is also true that it is only the living that can actually conquer tough times. Research has shown that when people set out time to relax, it sharply reduces the risk of a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer and diabetes. Relaxation relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves mood, and enhances general psychological well-being.
It has also been established that contact with natural habitat improves physical and psychological health. This is why more people should take out time with family and friends to regularly visit parks and gardens or even spend holidays in areas with rich rural setting. In Third World countries especially, urban areas with its increasing diverse pollution and stressful culture are fast becoming hazardous for human habitation.
No doubt, the alarming increase in cases of heart related deaths calls for constant public enlightenment campaigns by all critical stakeholders in the country’s health sector. Efforts must be geared towards putting in place an all inclusive health education to boost consciousness of the major risk factors for heart related illness and also to closely bring to the knowledge of the citizenry the various causes and signs of most heart related disease. In a rapidly digital world that ours is, ignorance about critical health matters shouldn’t exits any longer.
Therefore, it needs to be stressed that everyone must begin to take deep interest in all health related matters. As people transit from one phase of life to the other, they must recognize certain decisive changes in their body make up and deal decisively with such as occasion demands. To recognize such changes and do nothing about it is akin to sleeping while the house is on fire. This, of course, isn’t in anyway logical. According to medical experts and health educators, sudden death is only a culmination of medical complications that are left unattended to overtime. It could be a reflection of ignored symptoms and harmful habits. This is the time to become more watchful about critical heath necessities such as regular blood pressure and blood sugar checks among other such routine heath checks. A stitch in time, as the adage goes, saves nine.
Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.