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Ensuring a heart disease-free future generation

27 September 2013, 15:24

Lagos - The 2013 World Heart Day focuses on life-course approach to the prevention and control of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), especially in women and children.

The United Nations in 2000 set aside the last Sunday in September as the World Heart Day to sensitise the international community that heart diseases are the world’s leading causes of death.

Experts note that the theme for this year’s event:  "Take the road to a healthy heart’’ is informed by the fact that healthy children grow to be healthy adults, and healthy adults develop to healthy families and communities.

They describe the theme as apt, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) records show that more than 17 million people die of CVDs, particularly heart attacks and strokes annually.

These records have also informed the concern of some stakeholders to float complementary heart disease awareness outfits to ensure the eradication of CVDs.

For instance, the Kanu Heart Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, is committed to save the lives of children by offering free open heart surgeries.

Phil Okoroafor, Project Consultant, Kanu Cardiac Centre, says the rising incidence of heart diseases among children in Nigeria has become an issue of great concern.

According to her, there are more than 1,000 patients presently on the foundation’s waiting list.

In an effort to guarantee a CVDs-free future generation, the WHO initiated the Global Action Plan on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) from 2013 to 2025.

This plan aims to prevent the burden of heart diseases by targeting 25 per cent reduction in CVDs deaths by 2025.

It is against this backdrop that the World Heart Day is aimed to encourage all, particularly youths, to pursue health-friendly habits and to sensitise people about CVDs.

However, governments at all levels are required to assist children born with heart diseases by providing them access to medical care.

Dr Kingsley Osagie, a pulmonologist at the National Hospital, Abuja, says that children can acquire heart diseases from birth, adding that hypertension occurs in children.

"The heart may not have a problem of its own, but because the child has infiltration of some substances into the heart, the heart becomes weak leading to heart disease."

Osagie adds that a combination of habits of some mothers during pregnancy and the environment can cause congenital heart diseases.

"Like mothers who smoke, who take excessive alcohol, un-prescribed drugs and herbal preparations, predispose these unborn babies to heart diseases.

"For the pregnant mother, the environment is very important; don’t say you are not smoking and you live in an area that is prone to smoke or fumes  or  you use fire wood or cook inside your room,’’ he warns.

Osagie adds that government has a role to play in helping children born with heart diseases to access medical care so they can also have a chance to live.

Dr Iretiola Babaniyi, a paediatrician at the National Hospital, Abuja, says that congenital heart diseases can arise from abnormal structures of the heart and great vessels or due to obstruction of blood flow through the heart and the vessels.

"Congenital heart diseases,’’ she notes, "occur at the formation stage in the womb, especially if there was a defect in the chromosomes; that can lead to a hole in any of the chambers of the heart.’’

For a CVDs-free future generation, Babaniyi urges stakeholders to complement the efforts of WHO at eradicating heart-related diseases.

She advises expectant mothers to abstain from taking traditional herbs to avoid the risk of having babies with congenital heart diseases.

But Dr Ikenna Nwokoye, also a paediatrician, notes that children can also acquire heart diseases from the environment between five years and 15 years.

He adds that genetic factors also affect the heart of babies, saying "if one or two family members have heart diseases, it is likely for the baby to have the disease.’’

According to him, exposure to radiation by pregnant women is a major cause of heart diseases in children.

"Undue and prolonged exposure to radiation is one of the factors that cause heart diseases in children; so too much exposure to radiation such as X-ray should be avoided,’’ he advises.

Nwokoye says that illness during pregnancy may also affect a baby’s heart in the womb, especially among pregnant women with uncontrolled diabetes.

For prevention, experts say expectant mothers should avoid smoking, reduce or stop alcohol intake.

"For those who have a family history of heart disease, we usually advice them to screen early to determine if the unborn baby has congenital heart disease.

"At that point in time you can decide whether the pregnancy should be allowed to progress,’’ Osagie observes.

Osagie also says that treatment for congenital heart disease depends on clinical manifestations in patients which may either be severe or mild.

He notes that those with mild heart diseases could be controlled to enable the child live a normal life, while severe cases will require either palliatives or open heart surgery.

According to him, if a child pants heavily or becomes breathless after playing, means the child must seek medical help to rule out congenital  heart diseases because the earlier the diagnosis, the better.

Osagie, however, says there is hope for children with hole in their heart, adding that a successful open heart surgery can help the child live a normal life.

Stakeholders insist that irrespective of the awareness arising from the World Heart Day celebration, women should ensure that their children are protected from congenital heart diseases for a healthier future.



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