Burden of heart diseases: Risk factors and prevention

Catherine Mwauyakufa, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
To say that more poor people succumb to non communicable diseases (NCDs), as compared to the rich, is not an understatement. One would wonder, why the co-relation—the diseases are non communicable and so how do they end up killing more poor people. Poverty stricken communities have little or limited health facilities hence access to quality healthcare to these people living is always a constraint and at times not available.

Early detection is crucial in managing cardiovascular diseases or CVDs as they are more commonly known as. Another important factor is the family history of the patient, and people coming from families with a high risk of CVD have to be monitored to get early treatment. Poverty plays a negative, yet crucial, role as poor people fail to get healthcare monitoring as required. An interesting survey taken by the Cardiological Society of India in 2015 revealed that 60% of the people surveyed were unaware that they had hypertension. Raised blood pressure is a risk that is attributed to 13% of the global CVD deaths. “The total sample size was 74 520 in 24 states covering 100 cities with 7500 volunteers and paramedics and the survey was done in 8 hours. Of this number, 33% of the people were found to be hypertensive and their ages ranged from 31 to 45 years,” the survey reported. As seen above, the disease can no longer be said to be a burden for the aged as it used to be. It is now reported even in the 30-50 age group. An avoidable risk is tobacco use. Smoking has been found to be responsible for 9% of the CVD deaths, followed by raised blood glucose and physical inactivity (6%). Obesity related CVD deaths stood just 1% lower at 5%, even as this growing challenge can be reduced or managed.

Controlling the risk factors is hence emphasised if the chances of getting a heart attack or stroke are to be lowered. In a webinar organised by CNS for health journalists, Prof Rishi Sethi of the Department of Cardiology at King George Medical University, said that “Poor access to health facilities leads to late detection of CVD with raised blood pressure being a risk factor”. “Access to primary health care which provides early detection and treatment for people at risk is poor in the low to middle income countries,” he added. There was still a risk of uncontrolled blood pressure, even for patients on medication for hypertension. It is estimated that globally 1 billion people have hypertension (HTN). HTN is called a silent killer as it often has no warning signs or symptoms. An optimal blood pressure of less than 120/80mm of Hg is recommended. Speaking to Lucilla Ncobo, who has been on HTN treatment for the past 10 years, she told me that she watches her diet strictly. There are times, however, that she has had to be hospitalised when the blood pressure rose to life-threatening levels. “I have been treatment for high blood for the past 10 years. There are, however, times that I have been admitted to the hospital when the blood pressure rose to life-threatening levels.

My family has a history of CVD and my dad died of heart attack. My younger sister once suffered a mild stroke that was attributed to HTN. We both observe a strict diet and take medication as prescribed,” said Ncobo who urged people to get regularly checked for high blood pressure. “High blood pressure is a silent killer and usually shows no signs, with the exception when one has had a stroke or has even died,” she said. “Having blood pressure checked in health centres is done for free and I would advise that even a person not at risk gets checked at least three times a year,” she pointed out. For those who have raised their risk factor of getting a CVD by tobacco use, they can lower the risk by stopping the habit. During the webnair, it was emphasised that within 2 years of quitting smoking, the risk of a coronary heart disease is substantially reduced and within 15 years the risk of CVD returns to that of a non-smoker. Smoking may be pleasurable to those who do, but the risk of life-threatening consequences far outweighs the momentary satisfaction. There is no merit in smoking or chewing your heart away to death. So eat healthy, quit tobacco, get rid of stress and enjoy a health beating heart.

Catherine Mwauyakufa, Citizen News Service - CNS
October 18, 2016