Until recently, cardiac arrest, heart attack and cardiovascular diseases were the number one killer, especially among old folks. But today, these conditions are also prevalent among the youth. This is because of behavioural change and the adoption of unhealthy lifestyles.
Today’s youth are adventurous and love to have fun. This lifestyle often involves the excessive consumption of alcohol and red meat such as beef, pork, sausages – which are very high in cholesterol. This excessive consumption of food and alcohol may also be attributed to the stress brought on by urbanization, and contributes significantly to the stress on the heart which may lead to heart attack, cardiac arrest and other cardiovascular diseases.
Notably, cardiac arrest and heart attacks are predominantly caused by risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- high blood cholesterol
- overweight or obesity
- lack of exercise
- family history of heart disease
Globally, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) remain the leading cause of death. In 2019, about 17.9million people died from CVDs, which represents 32 percent of all global deaths. About 85 percent of these deaths were due to heart attack and stroke. More than three-quarters of CVD’s deaths happen in low and middle-income countries. 38 percent (17million deaths) of premature deaths, i.e., deaths under the age of 70 in 2019 were due to CVDs.
It is believed that over 40 percent of Ghanaians are hypertensive, and this number keeps rising each day. The number is higher among urban dwellers, and this can be attributed to stress, lack of physical activity and poor eating habits. There is a large number of persons who are hypertensive and are not even aware because they have not been diagnosed yet. For many people, the first time they are diagnosed is when they actually report to the clinic with an illness, or a complication from hypertension.
An estimated 1.4billion people globally are physically inactive, while more than one in four adults are less active. World Health Organisation has set aside a new Global Action Plan on Physical Activity to help reduce physical inactivity by 10 percent in 2025 and 15 percent by 2030.
Meanwhile, diabetes which was thought to be a condition of the affluent, now continues to affect the vulnerable in society. It was the ninth leading cause of death in 2019, with an estimated 1.5million deaths directly caused by it. About 48 percent of all deaths due to diabetes occurred before the age of 70 years. Last year, WHO launched the Global Diabetes Compact, an initiative expected to help sustain improvements in the prevention and care of diabetes in low and middle-income countries.
A visit to the Stroke Unit at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) revealed that, every year, about 15million people suffer a stroke worldwide. Out of these, 5million die, and 5million are left with permanent disability. This puts a huge burden on families and communities. It is believed that stroke is uncommon in people under 40 years, but when it occurs, high blood pressure is the main cause, according to WHO Reports. Stroke also has an occurrence rate of 8 percent in children with sickle cell disease.
On speaking to Ama Aggrey, a stroke patient, she said: “It’s funny how life can be. You went to bed very healthy but later realised that you aren’t feeling well. I was ok yesterday going about my daily business without any illness, but woke up in the morning down with stroke. I couldn’t even lift any of my hands or legs. I felt this burden of heavy uneasiness all over my body. I was taken to the hospital, and this saved my life. Fortunately for me, I can speak clearly unlike many others, who develop loss of speech, vision and get confused”.
Ms. Aggrey advised people to be careful of engaging in unhealthy lifestyles and rather engage in more physical activities to keep fit.
In many developed countries, stroke conditions are gradually declining due to better management of high blood pressure and a reduction in smoking.
Adding his voice, 45-year-old Daniel Ansong, another stroke patient noted: “I had hypertension at the age of 35 but was able to manage the condition until last year, when I suddenly felt some heaviness all over my body, a situation I couldn’t explain till date. I was told that, out of every 10 people who die from stroke, four of them could have been saved if their blood pressure had been regulated”.
Alcohol consumption contributes to 3million deaths each year globally, and to the disabilities and poor health of millions of people. Overall, harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5.1 percent of the global burden of disease.
As Ghanaians continue to be educated on the dangers associated with their health, it is imperative to promote a healthy lifestyle among them. This includes exercising, having healthy food choices and increased awareness of risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular diseases. These risk factors are lifestyle-related and can be prevented.
There is also need to create the right enabling environment that facilitates the adoption of positive behavioural change. The control of cardiovascular diseases in Ghana should generally rely on the promotion of healthy behaviours, screening and treatment of high-risk individuals. However, the provision of such services must consider available health resources and must focus on cost-effective and affordable measures.
>>>the writer is a physician, entrepreneur and policy-maker passionate about improving the global healthcare landscape. He is the founder and CEO of Claron Health International, an innovative company facilitating the delivery of medical, preventative and digital health services across Ghana and Africa. He can be reached on [email protected]. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-dennisaddo/