Heart Disease – A Prime Cause of Disability and Death in the Caribbean

Our hectic lifestyle and escalating stress in daily life often take a toll on our heart. Thus we are often left with a weak heart and threats of fatal outcomes.

Different types of heart diseases

  • Cardiomegaly implies an engorged heart due to hypertension and coronary artery disease.
  • Arrhythmia or irregular heart rhythm
  • Atrial fibrillation which comes with signs of fatigue and dizziness.
  • Cardiomyopathy which weakens the heart’s ability to pump blood, thus often leading to cardiac failure.
  • Pericarditis or inflammation of any of the heart layers or pericardium, that threatens us with chest pain and increased heart rate.
  • Pericardial effusion which is caused due to abnormal increase in the amount of fluid present between layers of pericardium, thus giving rise of symptoms like nausea, shortness of breath and muscle aches.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

Heart disease can be hereditary, especially if a parent or sibling has a previous record of heart attack, but there are still things you can do to prevent or treat heart disease. The first step is to be aware of the signs of a heart attack so that you can recognize them instantly when it strikes and call for immediate help.

Feeling pain or discomfort in the chest, pain in the left shoulder, elbow, jaw or back, difficulty in breathing, cold sweats, vomiting, or feeling lightheaded and fainting are all basic warning signs. Women are more likely to experience nausea, vomiting, back and jaw pain in addition to shortness of breath.

Myths about Heart Disease

There are a number of myths circulating about heart disease that aren’t true. The following is a short list of examples:

Myth #1 I’m too young for a heart attack.

Truth: People are having heart attacks at younger ages now and it can even happen to children. Everyone is at risk.

Myth#2 There are warning signs for heart disease

Truth: Not always. Though there is a list of possible symptoms, some people don’t feel any of them when they have a heart attack. A healthy lifestyle and regular checkups are necessary.

Myth #3 A rapid heartbeat is a sign of heart attack

Truth: Changes in heartbeat are normal, even if it is rapid. Stress and exercise can cause a faster heartbeat too, but that hardly leads to heart attack.

Myth #4 Chest pain is the first sign of a heart attack

Truth: Though chest pain is a common symptom, it’s not always present during a heart attack.

How to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

The best way to reduce the risk of a heart attack is to make healthy changes in your way of living. Stop smoking, reduce your intake of saturated fats, sugar and salt, exercise and lose weight to improve your heart health. Get regular checkups, discuss possible medications with your doctor and work on prevention, as well as early intervention to protect your heart from grave diseases.

Natural Ways to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Apart from healthy eating, there are some other natural ways to prevent heart disease. Meditation, herbs and supplements are all viable options. Vitamins D, C and E, calcium,

L-lysine and Omega 3 fatty acids are natural supplements that protect the heart and improve circulation. Herbs, such as Hawthorn berries, garlic, ginger and gingko are also helpful in maintaining a healthy heart.

The Prevalence of Heart Disease

African Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease, according to the Office of Minority Health. There is little information available about heart disease in the Caribbean, though it has been found to be the leading cause of death in Caribbean women. Surprisingly, the rate of heart disease is dropping in Canada, which ranks 4th out of 16 countries, according to The Conference Board of Canada. The countries with the worst record on the list were Finland, Germany and Austria.

Heart disease among natives of Caribbean Islands

Surveys have blamed cardiovascular diseases as the prime cause of disability and death in the Caribbean. Caribbean natives are drifting away from healthy foods and becoming more inclined towards meat, processed food products and foods rich in fat and sugar. This in turn leads to obesity and several other physiological anomalies related to it, thus making them more prone to heart diseases and lethal outcomes as severe as death.

However, the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI), in collaboration with PAHO/WHO Office of Caribbean Program Coordination have released a protocol as a resource for health and dietetic professionals, to help them manage the risk factors of heart diseases more efficiently and lower their occurrence among the masses.

Apart from the changes in lifestyle, poverty also poses as a crucial factor for increasing death rates due to heart disorders. Poor communities are often unable to avail medical help or expensive health care in hospitals due to lack of funds; thus higher death rate remains the only option open to them. Hence socio-economic changes are needed, to bring down the cases of heart diseases and improving healthy life in Caribbean countries.

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