Fri | Aug 17, 2018

Jamaicans urged to adopt a healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease

Published:Wednesday | February 1, 2017 | 12:11 AMRochelle Williams
Healthy diet consists of nuts and seeds.
Healthy diet consists of fruits and vegetables.
Men are three times more likely to experience sudden cardiac arrest.
Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days per week for over all cardiovascular health

The Ministry of Health in association with the Heart Foundation of Jamaica is urging Jamaicans to adopt healthy lifestyle habits to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

Portfolio minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton, noted that cardiovascular disease is one of the non-communicable diseases (NCD) which accounts for 34.8 per cent or 6,476 of all death in Jamaicans over five years old.

"It is estimated that about 40 to 50 per cent of all cardiovascular deaths are sudden cardiac deaths (SCD), with about 80 per cent of these caused by ventricular tachyarrhythmia," Dr. Tufton pointed out.

The health ministry in its response, developed the National Strategic and Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases for the period 2013 to 2018.

The plan covers seven main categories of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, sickle cell disease, mental health, and injuries.







One of the most serious cardiac conditions is Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), where there is sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness.

This is caused by the disruption of the pumping action of the heart, leading to loss of blood flow to other parts of the body. SCA is a serious medical emergency, which, if not treated immediately, can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD).

The immediate cause of SCA is usually an abnormality of the heart rhythm (cardiac arrhythmia), where the heart races or slows.

Although an estimated 25 per cent of Jamaicans are affected by the condition, many persons are unaware of the life threatening implications SCA.

It is a common misconception that SCA is similar to a heart attack, but in reality, SCA is deadlier, as it can strike at any time and affects young and older persons alike.

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when blood supply to the heart muscle is blocked but the heart keeps beating.

However, SCA is more severe and occurs where there is a disturbance in the electrical activity of the heart, referred to as cardiac arrhythmias.

The heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, and as a result, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs.

Less than 10 per cent of victims survive and loss of blood to the brain causes brain damage and harm vital organs in just four to six minutes. If there is no flow for eight minutes or more survival is unlikely.

Symptoms of SCA include chest pain, palpitations, fainting, shortness of breath, blackouts, fatigue and dizziness.

With SCA, the person loses consciousness and collapses suddenly. There is no pulse or breathing and the victim will experience 10 to 20 seconds of seizure.




Consultant cardiologist and Chair for the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, Dr. Andrene Chung said while SCA poses a grave threat, there are simple lifestyle habits that persons can adopt to reduce onset of the condition.

She said this include a healthy diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains and fish, such as salmon and mackerel, as well as skinless poultry.

Dr. Chung encourages persons to read food labels to determine if the product has healthy portions.

Healthy foods are those that have an average serving size less than five grams of total fat, less than two grams of saturated fat, less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol and 480 milligrams or less of sodium.

She also recommended that persons limit their intake of sodium and salt, red meat, foods containing saturated fat, sweets and added sugars.

Dr. Chung also noted that foods with trans-fat and hydrogenated oil (fried fast foods, cakes, butter) should be avoided.She also advised that persons engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days per week for over all cardiovascular health.







Noting that men are three times more likely to experience sudden cardiac arrest, Dr. Chung recommends that persons get screened for personal and family medical history to determine risk profile and treat known risk factors for cardiac disease.

These include physical examinations, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight/body mass index (BMI).




Risk factors for SCA include:

- family history of coronary artery disease

- smoking

- high blood pressure

- high blood cholesterol

- diabetes

- obesity

- sedentary lifestyle

- alcohol or illegal drug abuse

- stress

- family and personal history of cardiac arrest or other forms of heart disease

- age

- nutritional imbalance (low potassium and magnesium levels).

"You want to start screening for blood pressure by age 20. You should have a blood pressure check at every health check, or at least every two years if it was normal the last time it was checked," Dr. Chung explained.

Tests for cholesterol levels and BMI should also begin at this age and more frequently if there abnormalities or other risk factors.


Dr. Chung added that regular checks for blood sugar should begin at age 45.

This should be done every three years if it is normal.

The moments of an SCA episode are critical. When SCA occurs, call for medical help at once. Check for signs of life and if there are none, administer cardiac pulmonary resuscitation (CPR)... and use an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restart the heart.

For persons not formally trained in CPR, push hard and fast on the victim's chest and follow the directions on the AED until medical help arrives.

"You can treat sudden cardiac arrest and prevent sudden cardiac death using the 'chain of survival'.

Early CPR coupled with defibrillation...and rapid transport to hospital can be lifesaving," Dr. Chung said.

- For information on training in CPR and other medical emergency procedures, contact The Heart Foundation of Jamaica at: (876) 926-4378/6492, 929-3195 or visit Email: yourhealth