Affairs of the heart
The heart is responsible for pumping blood to all areas of the body. It may be afflicted by several conditions which cause ill health and death. This week, we join the Heart Foundation of Jamaica in celebrating Heart Month by discussing conditions which affect the heart.
A heart attack is a serious affliction of the heart. It occurs when a clot forms in the arteries which carry blood to the heart muscles. This blocks the flow of blood and literally starves a part of the heart muscles. The blockage usually causes severe chest pain and may cause the heart to stop beating. Some factors that increase the risk of heart attacks include hypertension, high cholesterol levels and obesity.
When the heart beats irregularly, it can cause unpleasant symptoms such as dizziness and weakness. The irregular beating favours the formation of blood clots in the heart. These may break into smaller clots which travel in the arteries and block smaller blood vessels. Clots that travel to the brain will cause strokes and possibly death. People suffering from this condition may also die from heart failure.
Rheumatic heart disease
Heart disease may be caused by infections such as rheumatic fever. This infection is caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria which infects the throat. Rheumatic fever has become less common in Jamaica because of improved sanitation and easier access to antibiotic treatment for infections of the throat. This condition affects more than 20 million people worldwide, but is uncommon in developed countries. This infection occurs commonly in young people between ages five and 15. Rheumatic heart disease affects the valves in the heart, resulting in heart failure.
Heart failure is the final stage of many types of heart disease. It is the failure of the heart to pump blood adequately to the rest of the body. It causes weakness, tiredness, shortness of breath and generalised swelling of the body. These symptoms may occur for a short period or over many years.
These conditions of the heart may be prevented by taking care of your heart. This can be achieved by reducing your risk by cutting salt intake, controlling blood pressure and achieving a healthy weight.
Dr Pauline Williams-Green is a family physician and president of the Caribbean College of Family Physicians; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.