World Heart Day 2017: Share the Power – Know heart diseases

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This year’s theme for World Heart Day is ‘Share the Power’, encouraging people across the world to take care of their heart and inspire others to do the same.

Bad eating habits, inadequate intake of water, lack of physical activity, use of tobacco and alcohol etc., predispose one to heart conditions such as vessel clogging and hypertension, arrhythmia, high cholesterol and other cardiovascular diseases.

Anyone diagnosed with any of these heart conditions is evidently at a higher risk of a heart attack and Cerebrovascular accident. Heart problems are still very much one of the biggest burdens on the medical budget and the dangers of acquiring heart disease loom large over those who hold an unhealthy lifestyle close to their heart.

Unfortunately, some heart conditions are congenital. This means they are either present at birth or acquired during foetal development. These include Mitral, Aortic and Tricuspid Regurgitations and Stenosis, Hole-In-Heart, Mitral Valve Prolapse etc

World Health Organisation (WHO) founded World Heart Day in the year 2000 to be celebrated every 29th September – to sensitize and create awareness among people around the globe that heart diseases including CVA are the world’s leading causes of death, claiming 17.3 million lives each year.

To commemorate World Heart Day and also climax #CLITHSeptember, the medical team of CLITH will be out in the Church of Pentecost, Achimota Area – Taifa District, Accra tomorrow to screen few indicator of Heart Disease and also educate the congregation on risk factors of heart diseases and lifestyle modifications.

What is heart disease?

Disorders that affect the heart or blood vessels are called cardiovascular disorders. These disorders are usually divided into heart disease and peripheral blood vessel disorders. Heart disease affects the heart and blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. Disorders that affect blood vessels that supply the brain are called Cerebrovascular disorders e.g. stroke. Basically, heart disease encompasses diseased or occluded vessels, structural damage or malformations and blood clots.

When your heart begins to fail, it means it is no longer operating at its best and is unable to pump blood rhythmically.

This may be due to and not limited to some form of damage to the muscles of the heart, a chronic high blood pressure problem, faulty heart valves, a congenital malformation, and complications from rheumatic fever (causing rheumatic heart disease).

The trigger could also be coronary artery disease, which leaves your arteries clogged with cholesterol or plaque, blocking them partially or almost completely preventing normal blood flow.

According to WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Unfortunately, data is not available for Ghana and Africa but the rate at which we see cases of heart disease in the hospitals is very high. The number of US adults diagnosed with heart disease stands at 26.6 million (11.3% of adult population).

Coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease is the most common form of heart disease. Although the heart regulates and pumps blood to every part of the body, it also needs special vessels to supply itself, without which its functions will be deficient. These vessels are the coronary arteries. Coronary or ischemic heart disease occurs when there is a blockade or blood supply to the heart tissues is cut off. If you have this problem, your heart muscles are unable to receive the oxygen and blood they need for nourishment and proper functioning, leading to symptoms like chest pain, arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, and even heart attacks.

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease include

  1. Pain: Sever chest pain is a common and widely known symptom of heart disease. Technically known as angina, it is a result of inadequate oxygen supply to the heart muscle and accumulation of waste products causing cramps. Strange as it may seem, women and men have different symptoms of pain ;
  • Where the pain is:Women usually complain of pain in the neck, jaw, abdomen, throat, or back unlike men, who have chest pain more often.
  • The trigger:For women, the pain may occur during rest or even while sleeping and not just during a physical activity. Mental stress is more likely to trigger pain in women. In men, physical activity worsens their pain. Pain usually goes away while at rest.
  • Feeling of pain:Women may feel a sharp burning chest pain, but men experience a squeezing sensation or pressure in the chest. The more plaque is build up in the vessel, the worse the pain.
  1. Palpitations: Rapid and irregular heartbeat are not noticeable in normal people. However, most people can feel their heartbeats when they lie on their left side. Under certain circumstances – for example, when exercising strenuously or having a dramatic emotional experience – healthy people may become aware of their heartbeat. Determining whether palpitations are abnormal depends on answers to a number of questions such as whether they started suddenly or gradually, whether something seems to trigger them, how fast the heart beats and whether and to what extent the beats seem irregular. Palpitations that occur with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain, weakness, fatigue, or fainting are more likely to result from an abnormal heart rhythm or a serious disorder.
  1. Fatigue: When the heart pumps inefficiently as it does in heart failure, blood flow to the muscles may be inadequate during physical activity causing feelings of weakness and fatigue. Symptoms are often subtle. People usually compensate by gradually reducing their activity level or they may blame the systems on increasing age.
  1. Shortness of breath: Also known as dyspnoea is a common symptom of heart failure. It results from fluid sipping into the air spaces of the lungs – A condition called pulmonary congestion or oedema. Ultimately the process is similar to drowning.
  1. Limitation of physical activity: Heart disease can limit a person’s ability to perform physical activity. One way to evaluate the severity of heart disease is to determine how limited this activity is.
  1. Light-headedness and fainting: If blood flow is inadequate because the heart rate or rhythm is abnormal, or because the heart cannot pump adequately, light-headedness, faintness, or fainting (syncope) may result. These symptoms can also result from brain or spinal cord disorders or they may have no serious cause. E.g. healthy soldiers may feel faint or may faint when standing still for long periods ( a phenomenon called parade ground syncope) because the leg muscles have to be active to help return blood to the heart. Strong emotion or pain which activates part of the nervous system also can cause fainting. Sitting or standing up too quickly can cause feeling of faintness or fainting because the change in position causes blood to pool in the legs resulting in the fall in blood pressure. Normally the body quickly adjust to maintain blood pressure. Inability to adjust quickly is called auto-static hypotension.
  1. Swelling, Numbness and changes in skin colour: Swelling is due to the accumulation of fluids (oedema) in tissues. It occurs when blood pools in the leg veins increasing pressure in the leg veins and forcing fluids out of the veins into tissues. Blood may pool because the heart cannot pump out all the blood it receives from the rest of the body (in heart failure) or because a deep vein in the leg is blocked (in deep vein thrombosis). Swelling in the legs or ankles and feet or in the abdomen may indicate heart failure or a venous disorder such as deep vein thrombosis. However such swelling is most commonly caused by standing or sitting in one position for too long or by age related changes in the leg veins. Swelling in the legs is also common in pregnancy. Swelling may also be due to liver or kidney disorders. If the blood supply is inadequate, the affected part of the body may feel numb. If blood supply is inadequate, if anaemia is present, or if the veins do not drain adequately, the skin may appear pale or bluish (or purplish).

Signs of a heart attack:

These warning signs will help you catch a heart attack before it happens or as it is starting.

  1. Pain in the jaw/neck/back: Pain or even discomfort in the jaw, back, or neck may be a sign of an impending heart attack.
  2. Pain in the chest: Discomfort or pain in the chest could be a sign of an oncoming heart attack.
  3. Pain in the shoulders/arms: Even painful arms or shoulders could be a sign of a heart issue. More than women, men are more likely to have pain in the left arm during a heart attack.
  4. Light-headedness/dizziness: If you feel faint, dizzy or weak, especially combined with other symptoms, this may be due to a heart attack. Women tend to experience this symptom more than men.
  5. Shortness of breath: Finding it hard to breathe? It may be because your heart is struggling to supply oxygen and blood.
  6. Nausea: Women may feel nauseous if and when they are experiencing a heart attack.
  7. Heartburn and indigestion: Another symptom more common in women than in men is the feeling of indigestion which is often ignored in the hope that it will eventually go away.
  8. Tiredness/fatigue: Feeling of extreme exhaustion and tiredness, especially if you have other signs accompanying this, may be due to a heart attack.
  9. Fluttering in the chest:Also known as palpitations, this fluttering in the chest can be caused by a heart attack or heart problem. However, since there are other harmless reasons for this like anxiety or dehydration, you are advised to get yourself checked to be sure.

Better to be safe than sorry! Getting timely medical attention is critical and may allow you to recover better and faster.

Anytime you are contemplating the early warning signs of heart failure, just remember your ‘FACES’.

F – Fatigue

A – Activity limitation

C – Congestion

E – Edema

S – Shortness of breath

Apart from these symptoms, some people also experience confusion, memory loss and disorientation. Lack of appetite is also a possible sign. Pain is just the beginning. Fortunately, problems like heart attack and heart failure do have red flags that can help you save your own life or someone else’s if you notice them in time.

In this case, if you or a loved one is experiencing heart failure or a heart attack, get emergency medical attention as fast as possible.

If you are alone, call an ambulance!


E. E. Tornyeavah @telikemeugen


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