By Sola Ogundipe
Omotayo knew something was terribly wrong when she woke up early one Monday morning feeling a crushing feeling in her chest. “I almost passed out from the pain, which was worsened by several bouts of shortness of breath. I just felt dreadful, she recalled.” It was the second time Omotayo would be feeling like that. “The first time was about three months earlier, but the pain was a lot milder.”
A part-time lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Scotland, Omotayo also ran a boutique downtown. Without disturbing her husband who was still fast asleep beside her, she quietly called her family doctor and booked an appointment for later that morning.
Six hours later when she walked into the doctor’s office, the pain had receded into a distant pulse. She felt almost completely normal. But the doctor’s diagnosis was a bombshell. He examined 56-year-old Omotayo and said, “Lady, there is trouble.” He explained that she had coronary artery disease. In simple terms, the arteries in her heart had been narrowed.
She was scheduled for heart function tests to determine which vessels were blocked. An angioplasty was carried out to help open the narrowed vessels after which heart medications were prescribed to maintain proper blood pressure and flow. Omotayo was devastated. “I had a fairly active lifestyle, was a nonsmoker, and enjoyed cooking, visiting, traveling, Church and family activities, so I didn’t expect to fall ill like this.”
Unfortunately, she overlooked the fact that she had a family history of heart disease. Her father had suffered a heart attack and her mother had congestive heart failure. These were genetic and non-modifiable risk factors. “Although I felt better after the angioplasty, I was warned to change my diet and get even more exercise. My family was greatly concerned about my health. They watched me like a hawk.” But exactly three months down the line, Omotayo again experienced a crushing feeling in her chest and shortness of breath. This time around it was so bad; she was admitted into the emergency room.
Once again, doctors performed tests on her heart and determined that she needed another angioplasty procedure. They placed a stent in one of her heart vessels. A stent is a tiny device that supports a vessel and helps it remain open for adequate blood flow. But her relief was short-lived. Barely six months after the stent procedure, there were feelings of fatigue and shortness of breath still prevalent.
Omotayo had a constant cloud over her head, worrying that she could die. It was when she suffered a fourth episode that Omatayo’s cardiologist decided enough was enough. One of her coronary arteries was extremely narrow, and the risk of a full scale heart attack or stroke was quite real. So heart surgery, or coronary artery bypass to be more exact, was recommended as the best option. “I was really scared and apprehensive, but yet relieved, as there was hope this would take care of my problems once and for all.”
The surgery was done one Saturday morning and two days afterwards, Omotayo was sitting up and actually felt quite good. Her family was surprised to see how well she was doing and how quickly she recovered. She was walking by the third day and went home four days after the surgery. She’s been well to date.
Every year, tens of thousands of Nigerians survive heart attack, go back to work and enjoy a normal life. While there is every reason to be confident of a full recovery, a heart attack could be fatal, even at the onset.
The rising incidence of Ischaemic Heart Disease, also known as Coronary Artery Disease, has been described as the “Next Epidemic” in Nigeria. The human heart muscle needs oxygen to survive, but a heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow can slowly become narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that together are called plaque.
This slow process is known as atherosclerosis. When a plaque in a heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around the plaque and this blood clot can block the blood flow through the heart muscle. When the heart muscle is starved for oxygen and nutrients, it is called Ischemia. When damage or death of part of the heart muscle occurs as a result of ischemia, it is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction. About every 55-60 seconds, someone somewhere in Nigeria has a myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Signs & Symptoms
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach, and shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness could occur. Heart attack complications are often related to the damage done to the heart during a heart attack. This damage can lead to abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), heart failure or rupture and valve problems.
What to do if someone is having a heart attack
If you encounter someone who is unconscious from a presumed heart attack, call for emergency medical help. If you have received training in emergency procedures, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to help deliver oxygen to the body and brain. According to guidelines by the American Heart Association, regardless of whether you’ve been trained, you should begin CPR with chest compressions. Press down about five centimeters on the person’s chest for each compression at a rate of about 100 a minute. If you’ve been trained in CPR, check the person’s airway and deliver rescue breaths after every 30 compressions. If you haven’t been trained, continue doing only compressions until help arrives.
Treatment at a hospital
Heart attack treatment at a hospital varies depending on the situation. It could be medications, an invasive procedure or both — depending on the severity of the condition and the amount of damage to the heart.