By Folasade Alli
Perhaps you have a heart disease, perhaps you don’t, perhaps a close relative or a friend does – don’t panic. Anyone can live a healthier, longer life despite heart disease. How? Don’t worry, I’ll get there.
Before I do, it is important to note that, unfortunately, heart disease, especially hypertensive heart disease, is the leading cause of death among adult and aged Nigerians. Also remember, this statement does not need to apply to you and your loved ones, which is the purpose of this article.
How can I live a healthier, longer life despite heart disease?
First, you need to know what heart disease means. Heart disease refers to any condition that causes the heart not to function appropriately. For example, atherosclerosis heart disease results from the build-up of plaques that clutters the arteries and vessels, thereby causing the heart to pump against high resistance.
Other examples of heart diseases include hypertensive heart disease, congenital heart defects, coronary heart disease, inflammatory heart disease, ischaemic heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, and so on. All these heart conditions cause the heart not to pump well, which can cause heart failure, and even heart attack. If not monitored well, they can lead to cardiac arrest, and worst, sudden cardiac death.
Second, you need to know if you’re either at risk of developing a heart disease, or at risk of complicating your existing heart-related condition. So, who is at risk? The answer is ANYONE & EVERYONE, especially:
Unborn babies in the womb (foetus)
Adults from their 30s and the aged
Youths in their 20s with excessive drinking and/or smoking habits
Individuals with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and kidney disease
Individuals with a family history of heart (-related) diseases
Women experiencing their menopause
Third, you need to know the factors that increase your risk of having heart disease, and your loved ones:
For an unborn baby: taking non-prescribed medications, not controlling and monitoring existing diseases such as diabetes and hypertension in the mother, not keeping up with your immunisation schedule, stressing a lot, drinking alcohol and smoking, and taking hard drugs.
For children, adults, and aged folk: women who developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy, smoking or dwelling for long in smoke-filled environments, eating an unhealthy, salt-rich diet, non-compliance with prescribed medications, and physical inactivity.
Fourth, you need to know the symptoms of heart disease, and know that they vary depending on the kind of heart condition and individual.
For many Nigerians, chest pain and discomfort in the arms, upper abdomen, or shoulders are the first signs
Pain or discomfort in the face and neck area, including the jaw and tooth ache
Physical weakness and light headedness
Breathlessness, Gasping, Panting, Shortness of Breath
Swollen ankles and foot
Feeling ‘sick to your stomach’/nausea
Make daily lifestyle changes to help reduce your risk of (further) heart complications including:
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, and foods low in saturated fats. Eat whole grain products, fish, beans, and lean meat.
Avoiding drinking alcohol by reducing your intake (including red wine!), or simply never start drinking.
Maintaining a healthy weight. Have you checked your BMI lately? If no, check and talk to a doctor about your weight if it doesn’t feel right.
Quit smoking and protect yourself from tobacco by avoiding smoke-filled environments.
Get active! A 30-minute walk everyday can help reduce the likelihood of a heart attack and stroke. Please, avoid aggressive, heart heavy sports – leave that for healthy teenagers – plus, I prefer football for the kids. Before adults embark on any form of excessive exercise/sport such as tennis and football, check your numbers (see the next point).
Know your numbers: check your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels regularly.
Carefully take your medication as prescribed – don’t wait until your first ICU admission to make a change. Instead, avoid it by carefully taking your medication.
Take your existing heart conditions seriously, especially high blood pressure.
Finally, discuss with your cardiologist about the best ways to reduce your heart disease risk. Join a heart healthy club such as LECC’s Cardiac and Vascular Care Programme.
- Alli, Consultant Cardiologist, is Medical Director of Lagos Executive Cardiovascular Clinic.