Younger Kenyans increasingly getting heart diseases: Doctors

Thursday May 12 2016

Men who regularly skip breakfast have a 27 per cent higher risk of suffering a heart attack than those who eat the meal, says a new Harvard study.

Men who regularly skip breakfast have a 27 per cent higher risk of suffering a heart attack than those who eat the meal, says a new Harvard study.  

ELIZABETH MERAB
By ELIZABETH MERAB
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The number of Kenyans suffering heart attacks and other heart diseases is likely to increase, health experts have warned.

They said cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks are the number one cause of death in adults over 30.

However, the trend of the disease is fast shifting to the youth as more young people are diagnosed with heart conditions.

At least 60 per cent of patients who go to hospital with heart attacks are between 20 and 30.

“Trends of diseases are changing” said Dr Jeilan Mohamed, a Nairobi-based cardiologist. “Many people think that heart attacks only affect the elderly, but the age bracket we are seeing in hospital is much younger.”

Cardiovascular diseases generally refer to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke.

But Dr Mohamed said not many patients are conversant with the symptoms of a heart attack.

Dr Mohamed said that “patients are not aware of simple symptoms of heart attack and end up coming to hospital too late”, exposing them to worse effects of the condition.

He added: “If it does not kill you, you will end up with a weak heart which requires seven to eight types of medications to manage.

“It is important to stress that not everybody experiences severe chest pain; the pain can often be mild and mistaken for indigestion.”

The experts said the prevalence of the cardiovascular diseases is driven by the fact that Kenya is experiencing an epidemiological transition in its disease burden from infectious to non-communicable conditions, resulting in the double burden of disease.

‘‘There is a rising prevalence of heart attack in Kenya,’’ said cardiologist Robert Mathenge.

Yet, medics said the level of awareness among Kenyans and policymakers is “worryingly low”, with Dr Mathenge observing: “There are hospitals that lack an electrocardiography (ECG) machine, which records the electrical activity of the heart, while in others the healthcare workers do not how to interpret the results, often missing the diagnosis.”

Whereas heart disease used to be prevalent in developed countries, the medics said it is spreading fast in developing nations like Kenya.

The heart specialists, who had convened in Nairobi for a conference on heart attack management, also decried lack of proper infrastructure to manage the conditions.

“Whereas we lack specialists who can perform the optimal stent procedure, we also lack adequate resources and the situation is worse in the regions,” said Dr Mathenge, adding that lack of specialists and infrastructure drives up the cost.

The stent procedure entails inserting a small metal tube, called a stent, into the artery to keep it open.

Doctors put it in through an incision in the wrist and thread it up to the narrowed artery.

The procedure, which takes about one hour, is currently offered in only six hospitals in Kenya and costs between Sh200,000 and Sh500,000.

Even worse, only eight cardiologists, all based in Nairobi, have the training to perform it.