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Cardiac arrest may be more common in Nigeria than previously thought – experts

Cardiac arrest

The rate at which many Nigerians drop dead nowadays has become very alarming, raising serious concern among health experts.

Although, deaths attributable to cardiac arrests are not new in the country, they are said to have become too frequent these days. Cardiologists have expressed worry that cardiac arrest-related deaths among Nigerians may be more common than previously thought.

In recent times, particularly since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, unexplainable deaths have continued to occur. It has been observed that cardiac arrest has continuously become a noticeable cause of medical concern, whereby people who appear physically healthy, suddenly slump and die.

Cardiac arrest became a big issue in Nigeria a few years ago when Moshood Kashimawo Abiola and a former Head of State, Sani Abacha, suddenly died of cardiac arrest in quick succession. Since the 1980’s, many other Nigerians have also died of the similar cases.

A number of politicians and businessmen have been reported dead recently. They slumped and died. BDSUNDAY gathered that there have been many unreported cases where some individuals just passed on while sitting down or discussing with their loved ones.

For instance, on Sunday, August 9, 2020, in Lagos, while a number of worshippers were celebrating the lifting of ban on religious gatherings as a result of the Covid-19, a 43-year-old man reportedly slumped and died inside the church. It was said that he had no known serious medical condition before the unfortunate incident.

Recently, a founding managing director of Democrat Newspaper and former president of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Ismaila Isa Funtua, died of cardiac arrest.

A number of people have attributed some of the cause of the deaths to fear, leading to depression. But, experts in medical field told BDSUNDAY that the increased incidence of deaths in the country may not be associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Adeyemi Johnson, a cardiologist, founder and managing director of First Cardiology Consultants, said: “The incidence of SCD is increasing rapidly in Nigeria mostly secondary to the increase in coronary artery disease from unhealthy lifestyles. Seventy (70) percent of cardiac-related deaths in Nigeria are preventable, No relation to Covid-19 that I am aware of.”

“I won’t call it a spike in cardiac arrest cases. It has been a gradual but significant rise,” Johnson said.

Johnson however, advised that Nigerians should get some exercise, “at least walking 30-60 minutes a day aiming for 5,000-10,000 steps a day and walking up the stairs instead of using the elevator.”

Globally, cardiac arrest is a foremost cause of death as it is annually responsible for no less than 7million deaths. An autopsy study from Nigeria found that hypertensive heart disease was the most common cause of sudden cardiac death.

Explaining this, Johnson said sudden cardiac death is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack can lead to sudden cardiac death which occurs when electrical activity in the heart stops functioning.

According to the consultant cardiologist, heart attack occurs when there is obstruction of blood flow to the heart muscle causing damage to the heart.

“A simple analogy is, look at sudden cardiac death (cardiac arrest) as loss of electrical supply to your water pump. The pump will not work. A heart attack is like damage to your generator from bad diesel. The generator will work but not efficiently and it might even stop and you have no power at all.

“Sudden cardiac death does not usually happen to normal hearts. There is usually an underlying problem that might not have been detected. The most common cause is coronary artery disease (blocked coronary arteries), other causes include heart failure (weak heart muscle), abnormal heart muscle and abnormal electrical activity in the heart.”

He further explained that “It is most common in people above the age of 50 and sometimes occur in healthy-appearing young people (athletes) who usually have an underlying problem that was not obvious.”

On how to avoid such episodes, Bisi Bright, a public health consultant and CEO Livewell Initiative, said Nigerians need to cultivate the culture of taking out time to rest and relax regularly, adding that “the disease can be averted through a healthy lifestyle, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep.”

According to her, “Nigeria is a very stressful place, so the stress level is very high. This is because of the poor infrastructure and human resource support systems and these results in stressful conditions.”

Folasade Alli, a consultant cardiologist at Lagos Executive Cardiovascular Clinic, listed steps to take in order to reduce the risk of cardiac arrest to include regular checkups, screening for heart disease and living a heart-healthy standard of living.

According to her, “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. However, I know there is a 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, making daily lifestyle changes will 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.”

Research shows that sudden cardiac arrest symptoms are immediate and severe. They include sudden collapse, no pulse, no breathing and loss of consciousness. These possibly will include fatigue, fainting, blackouts, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, and palpitations or vomiting.

Also, research identifies a family history of coronary artery disease, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive intake of alcohol, nutritional imbalance, such as low potassium or magnesium levels, using of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis, could also increase the risk of cardiac arrest.

Recall that some years back, during the inauguration of the N7billion cardiac and renal centre sited at Gbagada General Hospital, Jide Idris, the then Lagos State commissioner for Health, had attributed the prevalence of kidney/heart failure and eventual deaths of the patients to lifestyle, eating habits, lack of exercising, overweight, sugar level in the body and hypertension (blood pressure) among other risk factors.

The commissioner, at that time, confirmed increasing deaths from the diseases as some do not get to know until it reaches a critical stage; a situation he said informed the then government’s free test for the citizens and the eventual decision to establish the centre in the state