, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 21 – "On the way to work one day, I suddenly felt pain in the center of my chest. Grabbing my chest, I thought, \’What is happening? Did I eat something that affected me?\’" says Jane Njeri (not her real name).
"I felt very weak, and had to stand very still for a long while. I was trying to breathe, but I couldn\’t breathe deep, because of the intense pressure. It seemed to be coming from my stomach, but it was different from any sensation I had ever experienced before."
"The following week I consulted a doctor, but he did not identify my problem, and so I continued to work. On Wednesday, the heavy pressure in my lower chest occurred again. A coworker got scared, and brought a glass of water, asking, \’What happened?\’
"I answered, \’I don\’t know maybe it is some gas from something I ate. I feel like I\’m choking.\’
She then advised me to go see a doctor and I agreed with her.
"When I got down the elevator, the pressure on my chest increased. I could hardly breathe, and my arm was so weak it was difficult to hold my pocketbook. I staggered like a drunk person, but nobody offered to help. I prayed to God, \’Help me to get to the clinic.\’ I opened the door and collapsed, for a moment losing consciousness."
This is just but one experience of people who have suffered a heart attack without having an inkling of what ails them.
According to a cardiology consultant Dr David Silverstein, the prevalence of heart conditions in Kenya has increased in recent times.
"Historically, we always had cardiac issues but our main issues in the past has been rheumatic heart disease which infect young children after an infection which is not treated; and then the usual congenial heart disease which you are born with," he said.
Dr Silverstein says that there has been a rising epidemic related to heart ailments in third world countries including Kenya.
He says that other than the increase in coronary disease in the country, most of those affected are the young people in the 25-30 year age bracket.
He attributes this to a change in lifestyles and picking up of sedentary habits which have a negative impact on people\’s health.
"There was a time when heart attacks were so rare. Thirty years ago, they were not reported because they were so rare. Unfortunately we have taken on habits of the Western world like smoking, dietary habits, stress habits and inactivity, all the things that were not there before," he pointed out.
Consultant Interventional cardiologist and Physician Dr Shabir Hussain says that the hustle and bustles of today\’s lifestyles contribute to the increase in heart ailments.
"Racing a car engine constantly at top speed will shorten its life. In effect, that is what millions of men are doing to themselves frantically striving to get ahead, to get a better position, to do more than the other fellow only to suffer an abrupt breakdown," he stated and further surmised that all that was not worth the cost of a heart attack.
Indeed, the most common foe of fitness is the modern inactive life-style which is believed to be a main contributing factor in the avalanche of cardiovascular disease.
Medical experts say that the aim today is seemingly to remove any need for exerting a muscle. Cars have replaced legs as the principal means of transportation, and even arms are spared by power steering and electrical windows. In office buildings workers are carried from one floor to another by elevators.
At home, electrically driven brushes shine shoes and clean teeth. Lawns are trimmed with self-propelled lawn mowers. And TV channels are changed from one\’s seat with a remote control.
Dr Hussain says that the millions of cells in the heart have the independent ability to contract and relax which is well coordinated by electrical impulses coming from the sinus node, located in the right atrium.
He states that this ensures that the muscle cells contract in the proper sequence and at the proper rate, about seventy times per minute.
He goes on to further explain that with each contraction, about two and a half ounces of blood are pumped, amounting to some 75 gallons an hour.
According to Dr Hussain, the strength of the heart is so staggering that if its lifetime output could be concentrated into one burst of power it could lift a battleship several feet out of the water.
He further says that if part of the heart was destroyed, it could continue working to provide the entire body with blood.
"If the entire right ventricle is destroyed by disease or injury, readjustments can be made in the circulatory system and the heart continues to do its work. Even if over 75 percent of the muscle tissue of the left ventricle is destroyed, the remaining muscle can compensate and continue supplying the entire body with blood," he stated.
Prime Care Health Clinic Cardiologist Martin Wanyoike however says that despite this, even a simple heart ailment should be treated with the seriousness that it deserves.
He says that most deaths caused by heart attacks can be prevented if people take the necessary steps to prevent it.
"Seven in every 100 people die when they get a heart attack. The most important aspect of heart attack is prevention because even if we get to the patient from the hospital, we are still going to lose some patients and even those who survive will do so with heart disease and other ailments,"
He emphasizes the need for alder people to go for regular checkups to expose any hidden heart ailment.
"When you reach the age of 45- 50 years, you need to go for regular checkups so that your risk profile is measured."
He says that many heart attacks occur with only minimal symptoms. In fact, heart specialists estimate that perhaps 20 percent of initial attacks occur without any awareness by the victims.
He points out that this may be because a blood vessel in the heart is closed off gradually over a period of weeks or months, instead of abruptly. Later, the resulting damage to heart muscle is often detected by the electrocardiogram in routine physical examination.
He draws attention to the fact that the symptoms may also not be recognised as a heart attack. It may be attributed to a severe attack of indigestion, vomiting, fatigue and an ashen appearance.
Given subtleness with which heart ailments occur, there is need for everyone to take the matter of their health very seriously.
This includes taking sound common sense preventive measures changing habits such as overeating, physical lethargy, and heavy smoking.