OFTEN a slight, sudden and unorthodox pain in the chest might be rubbed off as no reason for concern, but these small and what might be considered insignificant signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease are usually indicators which, if taken into consideration, might be life-saving.
Cardiovascular disease remains the world’s and Guyana’s number one killer. It results in 18.6 million deaths a year globally. One of the leading causes is the hesitancy to seek medical attention. Often times, medical attention is sought too late.
Now, more than ever, persons who have experienced symptoms of cardiovascular diseases are hesitant to seek medical help, according to Interventional Cardiologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), Dr. Michael Chin, who speculates that the delay may be due to fear of being exposed to COVID-19.
“As such, patients with heart attacks and strokes and other medical emergencies are presenting later to hospital and when someone presents late to hospital with a medical emergency, then that in itself can lead to their untimely demise, as well as to more complications,” Chin said during an interview with the media on Monday.
Dr. Chin highlighted that most common amongst Guyanese is coronary artery disease which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This occurrence can cause a narrowing or blockage of the artery and ultimately a heart attack.
The decreased blood flow may not cause any symptoms initially; however, as the plaque continues to build up in the coronary arteries, persons may experience chest pain triggered by physical or emotional stress, shortness of breath or extreme fatigue with activity and heart attack.
“… a lot of people in their 40s they get chest pains and tend to not think of it as it being something that is significant … if you have these particular symptoms and they’re very persistent then you should not stay home, you should try to seek medical attention early,” he said.
“We could do …an electrocardiogram (ECG), which is an electrical tracing of the heart and if you have a significant blockage that could be picked up and then you can receive these medications early and that will open up the artery and restore the fluid and reduce your chance for damage,” he added.
Risk factors for coronary artery disease include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, high stress, obesity, genetics, age and sex.
“Some of the risk factors we see in Guyana where we have a high prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, smoking, obesity, unhealthy eating, and inactivity, all those can contribute to the buildup of these plaques,” Dr. Chin said before recommending lifestyle changes aimed at preventing cardiovascular diseases.
“In addition to that, people can develop heart failure, and in terms of other cardiac disease we see in Guyana such as value disease and arrhythmias of the heart, such as atrial fibrillation, so those are the common heart conditions,” he added.
Further, Dr. Chin reported that myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium) which can reduce the heart’s ability to pump blood and cause rapid or abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), has been common amongst persons who are infected with the COVID-19 virus.
He said that the hospital has been seeing patients who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus suffer from heart complications, some of which may even be linked to the novel coronavirus.
“Studies are showing that people have developed a condition called myocarditis, and myocarditis is a condition where the heart muscle becomes inflamed. Myocarditis can recover completely or it can lead to heart failure and we are seeing that in young people in Guyana,” Chin said.
Dr. Chin said that there is a high chance of there being a connection between COVID-19 and the disease, myocarditis, as it is being detected among the younger generation which does not possess the typical risk factors that causes the disease.
“When we now do testing…we could do antibody testing, their antibody test comes back positive, suggesting that they would have had COVID infection in the past, and now they have persistent weakness or heart failure,” he said.
Symptoms in the early stages of myocarditis includes chest pain, rapid or irregular heartbeats, or shortness of breath. However, some people with early-stage myocarditis don’t have any symptoms. Severe myocarditis can permanently damage one’s heart muscle, possibly causing heart failure, heart attack, stroke, arrhythmias or even death.
Dr. Chin recommends that persons who experience symptoms of cardiovascular disease seek urgent medical attention to be diagnosed as quickly as possible and to access life-saving treatment.