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13.01.2018 Feature Article

Heart Attacks, How To Avoid A Heart Attack

Heart Attacks, How To Avoid  A Heart Attack
LISTEN JAN 13, 2018

Let us get used to the following Terms/definition
Coronary Artery Disease(CAD): Arteries that feed the heart, are called coronary arteries. A type of heart disease due to plaque build-up in the coronary arteries is known as coronary Artery disease(CAD)

Plaque: An accumulation of cholesterol deposits in an artery

Atherosclerosis: Narrowing of arteries due to plaque build-up

Cholesterol: waxy substance found in all body tissues. High levels of cholesterol circulating in the body could lead to heart attacks

The symptoms of heart attack do vary. Classical symptoms include:

Pain in the center or left side of the chest, lasting several minutes,that comes and goes..

The pain may feel like squeezing, pressure, tightness, heaviness, cramping, burning, aching sensation.

The pain may radiate to the neck, jaws, shoulders, upper back, and upper Arms

A heart attack may present with symptoms, other than chest pain, especially in the older, female, and diabetics. The symptoms may be

  • Unexplained Indigestion,
  • Belching,
  • Upper Belly pain.
  • Associated Symptoms:
  • Shortness of breath, Cough
  • Nausea or Vomiting,
  • Cold sweats
  • Palpitations, irregular pulse
  • Feeling weak,
  • Unusual tiredness,
  • Lightheaded, or
  • Faint

Physicians use an EKG, to detect and record the electrical activities of the heart. An EKG may show signs of an acute heart injury.

A simple Blood Test is done, looking for proteins released into the circulation by the damaged hear muscles.

Coronary Angiography: A dye is introduced into the blood vessels of the heart and special X Rays are taken to detect blood flow abnormalities and blockages.

Doctors, then may place a stent in the artery to restore a normal blood flow

Heart Attack: is due to a Partial or Complete blockage of blood flow to heart muscles, leading to injury and subsequent death of affected heart muscles.

Risk factor for a heart attack are broadly divided into

  • Disease State: Hypertension
  • High Cholesterol
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Behavioral practices: Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Cocaine abuse
  • Alcohol use

Unless one measures their blood pressure, it would be difficult to know, if they have high blood pressure.

People with High blood pressure, have no pain or symptoms. Hypertension, damages the inner linings of blood vessels to facilitate cholesterol plaque formation.

Excess bad cholesterol in the circulation, can build up plaques in the walls of arteries. This leads to narrowing these arteries and impeding blood flow to other organs in the body, including the heart. Cholesterol levels in the blood, can be measured with a small blood test.

High blood sugar damages all the arteries of the body, and promotes plaque formation.

Diabetes increase the risk of heart, kidney, eye and other diseases

Processed food that are high in saturated fat, Trans fat and cholesterol can lead to heart diseases.

Examples of saturated fatty foods:(Animal products)

  • Goat
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Trans Fats (partially hydrogenated oils)

Hydrogen is added to vegetable oils to make them tastier and more solid. Eating the Trans fats raise bad cholesterol level(LDL-cholesterol), and increases one's risk for developing Diabetes, Heart disease and Stroke.

Examples of Trans Fats (partially hydrogenated oils) sources:

  • Doughnuts
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits, Crackers
  • Stick margarines,

Lack of physical activity increases the risk for Hypertension, Diabetes, Bad cholesterol and Heart diseases. Regular physical activity, can lower the risks for Heart diseases.

Excess fat in the body is linked with high levels of bad cholesterol, low levels of good cholesterol.

Obesity leads to Hypertension, Diabetes, and Heart diseases.

Alcohol can raise the blood pressure, and increases the risk for heart diseases.

A standard drink contains 14grams of pure alcohol. (12 oz. of 5% beer, 5 oz. of 12% wine, 1.5oz. of 40% Spirits)

Having greater than 2 drinks per day or men is a risk for heart diseases.

Smoking tobacco damages blood vessels, increasing the risk for atherosclerosis and heart diseases.

Nicotine raises blood pressure.
Second-hand smoking carries similar risks.
COCAINE may cause heart attack by inducing coronary artery spasm., in both diseased and healthy coronary arteries

Eat more of fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods

West Africa has abundant supply of healthy foods. Let us discuss a few of the controversial staple foods

Cassava: Cooked cassava is Rich in Fiber, Proteins, minerals and Saponins. The saponins and fibers, lower unhealthy cholesterol by binding to bile salts and thus, prevent absorption of dietary cholesterol from the intestines. Cassava reduces Bad cholesterol levels

Caution: Do not eat Raw cassava tubers and Raw cassava leaves. They need to be boiled, or grated and soaked to remove the low levels of cyanides (linamarin and lotaustralin) in them.

The finished products of cassava: Gari, Fufu are very safe for consumption

Other Tubers: Yams, Cocoyam, Sweet potato are very healthy foods

Plantain, Bananas are both healthy foods
Avoid frying these foods, instead, cook and roast them.

Add vegetable oil to stew without frying the oil.
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed foods.

Sources of saturated fats:

  • Pork,
  • Lamb,
  • Goat,
  • Beef
  • Cheese and
  • Butter
  • Palm Oil and Palm kernel oil, Coconut oil

Palm oil is 50% saturated, palm kernel oil and coconut oil have 85% saturated fat content. The higher the fat content in these oils, the more solid, they become at room temperature. Since palm oil is semisolid at room temperature, they should be preferred to palm kernel and coconut oils.

Saturated fats have been known to cause elevation of LDL-Cholesterol. However, research upon research have shown that, Palm oil does not increase LDL-Cholesterol levels, unless one consumes lots of animal meat, with the oil. Actually, studies have confirmed that total and LDL-cholesterol are lower in people who follow palm oil-rich diet than those who consume diet high in trans and animal fats.

Palm oil has Vitamin A and E, which are great for Eye and Brain health

PEANUTS/GROUNDNUTS, ALMONDS and NUTS in general, are great for the heart.

Limiting dietary salt intake lowers blood pressure It is recommended, no more than 1.5G of dietary salt per day. No Maggi cubes (1 Cube has 62.5G salt), No Koobi, they have too much salt.

Salt is used as preservatives in Canned foods, avoid canned foods, if you can. One can also drain and wash the foods with water, before preparing them.

Chose low sodium foods. When reading food labels, low sodium is defined as 140mg sodium per serving.

Being overweight increases the risk for heart diseases.

The surest way to know if you have a healthy weight is to measure your abdominal circumference, at the level of the umbilicus.

You can then, determine your abdominal circumference to height ratio.

The ratio of abdominal circumference to height (in inches or centimeters) should be 0.5 or less. If the ratio is greater than 0.6, then you need to take aggressive measures to lower your weight.

How to maintain a healthy weight

  1. Eat Slowly. When you eat fast, you may not feel full early, and you rather tend to overeat. The practice is to chew your food, 25 times before you swallow that food
  2. Cut out snacks
  3. Avoid refined carbohydrates like white rice, potato, white bread. Instead go for high fiber whole grains and legumes. They are digested slowly and they have low glycemic index

Regular physical activities prevent heart diseases
Adults should get a minimum of 30 minutes per day for exercise, 5 days per week; children do twice as much, and more.

Exercises include: fast walk, running, jogging, jump ropes and any other aerobic exercises.


  • Stop smoking if you;
  • Do not start smoking, if you do not.
  • Quitting smoking, reduces risk for heart diseases

Avoid drinking too much alcohol as this leads to hypertension and heart diseases. No more than 2 drinks/day for men, and no more 1 drink/day for women.

Take cholesterol medications when your bad cholesterol levels are high

In summary, Heart Attacks could be prevented and avoided if one chooses healthy diets and leads a healthy lifestyle, and promptly control disease states with medications. The choice is yours.

Alex Sarkodie MD
Alex Sarkodie MD, © 2018

Alex Sarkodie,MBChB has over 30 years experience in the field of MedicineColumn: AlexSarkodie

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