There is need to create awareness on causes of cardiac arrest
 The death last week of veteran journalist and Head of Human Security and Civil Society at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Raheemat Momodu has once again raised the issue of rising number of Nigerians who suddenly die without explanation. Momodu was said to be attending a meeting when she slumped and was rushed to the hospital. But she never made it. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. While there may be no accurate figures, the growing rate of unexpected natural deaths in Nigeria is worrying. We commiserate with the family of Momodu even as we ask the health authorities to pay more attention to this phenomenon in our country. 

In recent years, many young professionals and politicians have lost their lives to sudden death. The stories are the same: While engaged in a productive activity, they slump and die sometimes before they reach the hospital. And we hear of these cases only because the victims are prominent citizens. Several of such deaths are recorded across the country on daily basis. At a recent sensitisation programme on health issues, the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation expressed worries over rising cases of stroke and fatalities, especially among civil servants in the country. But so many questions remain unaddressed: What are the causes of unexpected natural deaths, often called sudden death syndrome? What are the predisposing symptoms?   

Sudden death is said to occur when a clot suddenly cuts off the blood flow, thus preventing oxygen from getting to the heart. This ultimately results in the loss of heart muscle. Renowned cardiologist and Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF) boss, Kingsley Akinroye, defines sudden death as an “unexpected natural death due to cardiovascular disease, which occurs within one hour of the onset of symptoms.” He said a major proportion of sudden death “is of cardiac (heart) origin.”    

The explanation chimes with that of another cardiologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi-Araba, Amam Mbakwem. According to the professor, the causes are majorly from cardiovascular disease: either a massive heart attack or abnormal electrical activities in the heart which could be either very fast, chaotic, and ineffective abrupt cessation of electrical activity. Meanwhile, research carried out in many of the country’s universities and beyond have also established that heart failure occurs more in males than in females, while the major cause of heart failure among young people is genetic.   

An autopsy review of sudden unexpected deaths in a suburban Nigerian population published recently in the journal, ‘Population Health Metrics’, revealed that cardiovascular, respiratory, central nervous system, and cancer-related causes were the major causes. The review further said that hypertension-related disorders “constituted a large proportion of cases” especially in people over 40 years, whereas infectious diseases are more common below this age. It argues that since majority of these deaths occur outside the hospital setting, “it is imperative that appropriate public health strategies be developed to address these issues.”   

To address the increasing rate of Nigerians dying from this preventable disease, awareness about the condition needs to be promoted among Nigerians, particularly those in the age bracket of 15 – 45 years. Most experts believe that Nigerians should be more health conscious and do routine medical checks. A healthy lifestyle is also highly recommended. People are advised to eat right, reduce excessive refined sugar, their salt and fat intake while increasing their vegetable and fruit intake. Besides, they must stop smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, reduce weight and exercise regularly. These are not foolproof measures, but they will surely help in reducing the scourge of sudden death that is assuming an epidemic proportion in Nigeria.  

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