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Be wary of heart diseases

health talk:with Dr Johannes Marisa

LAST Wednesday was World Heart Day where the global community paid attention to heart illness and the range of associated health issues.

The day is commemorated to promote different preventative steps and changes in lifestyle to avoid any cardiovascular diseases, like heart attack, stroke, heart failure and any other condition related to the same.

According to the World Health Organisation, 17,9 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2019, representing 32% of all global deaths.

Of these deaths, 85% were due to heart attack and stroke. Heart ailments are taking many lives every year, alas, many people do not know much about cardiac disease especially rural folks where diagnosis of the conditions can be a challenge due to limitations of the required investigations.

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Heart diseases include the following:

  • Heart defects you are born with (congenital heart defects).
  • Heart valve disease.
  • Diseases of the heart muscle.
  • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias).
  • Heart infection.
  • Blood vessel disease such as coronary artery disease.

There are many symptoms that are associated with heart disease but some of them vary because of the type of the heart disease present.

Below are examples:

Heart disease symptoms caused by congenital heart defects can present in their own way.

Examples of such conditions include patent ductus arteriosus, ventricular septal defect and tetralogy of fallot.

These serious heart defects that one is born with are usually noticed soon after birth.

These signs and symptoms include:

  • Pale grey or blue skin color (cyanosis).
  • Swelling in the legs, abdomen.
  • In an infant, shortness of breath during feeding, leading to poor weight gain.

Heart disease symptoms caused by heart valve problems

The heart has four valves, the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid that open and close to direct blood flow through your heart.

Many things can damage your heart valves, leading to narrowing (stenosis), leaking (regurgitation) or improper closing (prolapse).

Valvular heart disease signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Irregular heart.
  • Swollen feet and ankles.
  • Chest pain.
  • Fainting.

In general, heart disease presents with some symptoms and do not delay to see your clinicians if you have some of the symptoms and signs.

Remember the heart is the engine of the body and stopping of its function may signal your end.

A lot of people have suffered heart attacks while others have stayed in intensive care units for long because of heart ailments. Therefore, watch out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Changes in the heart rhythm
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Weakness or fatigue

Remember that some of the symptoms given above are also shared by conditions such as liver disease, kidney disease, lung infections like Tuberculosis so be alert about the necessary investigations.

What can worsen heart disease?

There are many habits and other pre-existing conditions that can aggravate heart disease and it is imperative that one takes cognisance of such:

  • Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine.
  • Drug abuse.
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • High salt intake: This can worsen blood pressure with resultant more strain on the heart
  • High cholesterol: Cholesterol is one of the killers in the world and its blocking of heart vessels can result in heart getting further straining.

Reduce foodstuffs that carry a lot of cholesterol. Cholesterol comes from animal produce and products but can be reduced by vegetables and fruits.

  • High blood pressure: This should be controlled well in order to avoid further damage to the heart. Religiously follow your medication.
  • Diabetes: Sugars should be well controlled to avoid complications from diabetes.
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Some prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs.

Complications of heart disease include:

lHeart failure: This comes when your heart fails to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs and this can come from many conditions like cardiomyopathy, heart infections, valvular heart disease

  • Heart attack: A blood clot blocking blood flow through a blood vessel may cause a heart attack.
  • Stroke: The risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease can also lead to ischemic stroke, which happens when your arteries to the brain are narrowed or blocked.
  • Aneurysm: An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of your artery and if it bursts, it is a life-threatening scenario.


There are blood or radiological investigations that can be done and common amongst them are the following:

Blood: Full blood count, lipid profile, cardiac enzymes, kidney function tests and liver function tests.

Radiological: Chest X-rays, ECG, echocardiography, computed tomography scan and magnetic resonance imaging.

Do not take heart disease lightly. Any suspicion of such stubborn ailment should be investigated to avoid unnecessary deaths.

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