Walk4PH, an annual walk-a-thon organized by Cardiac Community, Lagos, involves young adults walking around the streets of Lagos to raise awareness of pulmonary hypertension. Its founder, Ayotunde Omitoogun, went years without knowing she had the disease until it was properly diagnosed only 8 years ago. Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) is a chronic illness characterized by high blood pressure in the lungs and completely different from normal hypertension (systemic). It’s quite interesting how the brazen lady founded the community and manages support groups for young people suffering from heart diseases.
I’d like to use one of the Community’s mantras, “You sabi PH?” to ask if you actually know anything about PH. You sabi PH? You sabi ischemic heart disease? You sure say you know wetin dem call angina? It’s okay if you don’t know any of these heart problems. It is my pleasure to inform you and to explain why you should be concerned.
You should be concerned about improving your knowledge of these diseases because they are among the least understood and least discussed chronic diseases. According to recent statistics, they are the world’s leading killer of men and women of all races. It is also needful to know so as to keep the risks at bay.
What are heart diseases?
Heart disease is a blanket term for any disease that affects the heart. Some of the common ones are described below:
- Arrhythmia – occurs when the electrical impulses that coordinate the heartbeat do not work correctly. As a result, the heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, or erratically.
- Myocardial infarction – also known as heart attack, involves an interruption of the blood flow to the heart, damaging part of the heart muscle. The most common cause of heart attack is plaque (fat buildup), blood clot, or both in an artery.
- Hypertension – commonly called high blood pressure is the condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high. Usually, hypertension is defined as any blood pressure above 140/90.
- Cerebrovascular disease – a disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain.
- Rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcal bacteria, which is implicated in sore throat.
- Congenital heart disease – birth defects that affect the normal development and functioning of the heart. This could be Atypical heart valves where valves may not open properly or may leak blood; Septal defects – there is a hole in the wall between either the lower chambers of the upper chambers of the heart. There is also atresia, where one of the heart valves is missing.
- Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs.
- Heart failure – when a person has heart failure, their heart is still working but not as well as it should be. Congestive heart failure is a type of heart failure that occurs if the pumping or relaxing function of the heart is affected. Heart failure can result from untreated coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and other conditions.
Causes and risk factors
Factors such as high cholesterol, obesity, age, low activity levels, high stress, and anxiety levels, diabetes, dietary choices, genetics, can increase the risk of heart diseases.
Symptoms of Heart Diseases
The symptoms of heart disease vary depending on the type. Furthermore, some heart conditions have no symptoms at all, and some subtle symptoms indicate the presence of one or more heart diseases. If you experience any of these symptoms and are at risk for heart problems, do consult a doctor immediately.
- Chest Discomfort – pain, tightness, or pressure in the chest.
- Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn, or Stomach Pain
- Pain that spreads to the arm – radiates down the left side of the body.
- Fatigue – Extreme exhaustion or unexplained weakness which may last for days.
- Sweating – Breaking out in a cold sweat for no obvious reason could signal a heart attack.
- A cough that won’t stop – a long-lasting cough that produces a white or pink mucus.
- Irregular Heart Beat
- A blue tinge to the skin, especially in children.
- Choking sensation, and
- Swollen ankles.
Heart diseases can be life-threatening, but seeking early treatment can help prevent complications. Strategies include making lifestyle changes, taking medications, and undergoing surgery. Basic medicines available for management include aspirin, beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and statins.
Some lifestyle measures can help reduce the risk. These include:
- Eating a balanced healthy diet – Opt for a heart-healthy diet rich in fiber, grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit the intake of processed foods and added fat, salt, and sugar.
- Exercising regularly – This helps strengthen the heart and circulatory system, reduce cholesterol, and maintain blood pressure. You may wish to aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week.
- Maintaining a moderate body weight – A healthy body mass index (BMI) is typically between 20 and 25.
- Avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol intake – These habits are a major risk factor for heart and cardiovascular conditions and must be avoided.
- Managing underlying conditions – Seek treatment for conditions that affect heart health, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
In conclusion, heart diseases are common. Some are inherited and thus cannot be avoided. However, in many cases, these problems and their complications are preventable. Following a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and seeking medical advice when the first symptoms of heart disease appear are all preventative measures.