By Dr Henry Olamiju
Heart Attack in Nigeria: What to do?
Heart attack is a becoming more commonly diagnosed in Nigeria unlike what was obtained pre-2000s. It is easy to think it due to westernization of our diet and lifestyles but more often than not, we see that we were just under diagnosing the condition. We are quick to believe that sudden death is diabolical and often resort to prayers and hence fail to prevent the next one. Heart attack is a major cause of sudden death.
Countless people have died of heart attacks (or rendered very inactive) in Nigerian hospitals because they were being treated for pneumonia or ulcer instead of heart attack.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack is what happens when the blood supply to a part of the heart muscle is cut off and the muscle dies. In the clinical setting, there are three blood vessels that supply blood to the heart (yes, the heart needs blood supply too!)
Usually, the arteries that supply the heart can regulate blood flow to the heart depending on the body demands: rest vs exercise etc. As people grow older, the arteries may become narrower due to the deposition of substances (usually fats: cholesterol etc). The narrowing of the arteries is not evenly circumferential so a part of the circumference may have greater deposition than other parts.
If for any reason, a chunk of the fat deposit breaks off, it may go further down the arteries to totally block blood flow at a narrower point. The heart muscles around that area die and the surrounding areas get ‘stunned’ and may eventually die.
1. Chest pain (central, left-sided or sometimes feels like a heartburn) that radiates to jaws, shoulder or left arm
2. Dizziness +/- generalised body weakness
4. Nausea +/- vomiting
What to do immediately following a suspicion of heart attack
1. CHEW aspirin 300mg immediately (chew, don’t swallow!!!)
2. Get to a competent hospital IMMEDIATELY, even if it occurs at night!
By competent hospital, I mean one that can get an ECG done in 10 minutes and check for cardiac markers in less than 15-30mins. If the hospital is unable to provide these on time or accurately interpret the findings, please ask for a referral quickly. Time is muscle: for every minute that passes before an intervention, more heart muscles die.
People at higher risk of heart attacks
1. Age: Men >45y and women >55y
2. Cigarette smoking
3. High blood pressure
4. High cholesterol
5. Diabetes Mellitus
7. Sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
8. Family history of heart attack in parents or grandparents
2. Get a health check every now and then; screen for and manage hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol
3. Become more active: exercises, sports etc
4. Watch your weight
5. Eat healthy
Heart attacks are common among the at-risk individuals and sometimes requires a high index of suspicion to make the diagnosis.
Prompt presentation at the competent hospital, with rapid diagnosis and intervention will definitely save lost of lives.
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