Understanding heart conditions and their warning signs – Times of Malta

Posted: October 1, 2020 at 3:59 am

Every year World Heart Day is celebrated on September 29. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) represent 31 per cent of all global deaths, unambiguously the leading cause of death both in Malta and globally, for both genders alike.

Latest data published by WHO states that locally every two in five deaths were due to CVD in 2016. The most prominent cause is ischaemic heart disease, followed closely by stroke. Often this can be attributed to lifestyle-risk factors, notoriously the typical sedentary lifestyle many Maltese people lead, smoking, large portion sizes and unhealthy, gluttonous diets.

Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular conditions include a wide spectrum of diseases affecting the heart and its vasculature. The most devastating and prevalent diseases which we hear about on a regular basis are heart attacks and strokes.

There are a number of symptoms heralding a heart attack or stroke. These include nausea accompanied by chest pain, a choking sensation, excessive sweating or fatigue, as well as stomach, limb, and back pain. Signs to look out for stroke, using the FAST mnemonic: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to call emergency services. However, in the majority of cases, there may not be sufficient warning signs prior to the acute condition, thus, it is increasingly important to have regular check-ups to detect any signs of the disease as early as possible. In fact, one of the most consequential risk factors, hypertension; that is elevated blood pressure, is asymptomatic.

If the individual is showing the symptoms above, call 112 straight away. The earlier care is accessed the better the chance of survival and the less severe the sequelae. Cardiovascular events are always an emergency, and one should not hesitate to seek medical help. Even during this turbulent era of COVID-19, medical professionals are prepared to take care of patients safely. People with underlying health conditions such as heart failure, diabetes and high blood pressure should take extra care to attend their regular check-ups while taking all the necessary COVID-19 precautions.

Certain risk factors cannot be avoided or prevented. These risk factors include age, gender, family history and genetics. However, there are several lifestyle changes which if implemented on a daily basis could drastically reduce the probability of developing cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease in the future.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) represent 31 per cent of all global deaths

As the flu season is fast approaching it is good to know that influenza may increase the risk of heart attack by 10-fold and inoculation against the virus can reduce the risk of heart attacks by a staggering 45 per cent. Smoking cessation reduces the risk of heart attacks by 40 per cent within one year of quitting.

The main risk factors which one can regulate include smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. A lifestyle change of profound importance is increasing daily physical activity, with the recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day as well as decreasing long periods of inactivity.

Furthermore, one should also follow a healthy diet. A healthy diet involves the consumption of whole grains, vegetables and fruit all of which are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium. With regard to blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, it is important to remain vigilant by keeping an eye on these important parameters through regular check-ups. Studies have also shown that high-stress levels and depression can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. There are certain stress-reducing coping mechanisms which one can apply to their lives such as exercise and an adequate amount of sleep.

The Malta Medical Students Association (MMSA) Standing Committee on Public Health, will be organising a webinar titled Matters of the Heart on September 29 from 5.30pm on Facebook Live and Zoom.

Anyone interested in signing up can do so online.

The webinar will include guest speakers to talk about topics relating to cardiac health.

Prof. Kevin Cassar will be discussing atherosclerosis, going into the risk factors and its prevention. The Malta Resuscitation Council will be giving an interactive presentation on Basic Life Support highlighting how this has changed in the COVID-19 era and the use of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) found around public places in Malta.

Free health checks will also be offered to the public on October 4 from 9am to 12.30pm, near the Melliea parish church accompanying the mobile blood donation unit.

Diana Gauci is a third-year medical student.

Rachel Anne Muscat Baron is a second-year medical student.

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Understanding heart conditions and their warning signs - Times of Malta

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