Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels. They are the leading cause of death globally. An estimated 17.9 million people died from CVDs in 2019, representing 32% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, 85% were due to heart attack and stroke.

According to the latest WHO data published in 2020 Stroke and coronary heart disease Deaths in Botswana reached 8.18% and 8.41% of total deaths respectively.

Over the next few columns my focus will be on unpacking cardiovascular diseases, starting with coronary heart disease this week.

Coronary Heart Disease.

The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply the heart muscles with blood. Coronary heart disease (CHD) develops when the blood supply to the heart is interrupted or blocked by fatty deposits in the coronary arteries. Over time through a process known as atherosclerosis there is deposition of fatty material in the inner walls of the blood vessels.

The risk factors for atherosclerosis, include;

Physical inactivity

High cholesterol and triglyceride levels

High blood pressure

Cigarette smoking

Type 1 diabetes


High saturated fat diet

The symptoms of CHD differs amongst patients depending on the severity of the disease. Some patients may be asymptomatic until the diagnosis while others may experience chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, pain throughout the body and feeling faint. Chest pain that is due to angina is usually central in nature, dull, worsened by physical exertion and is relieved by rest.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of Acute Myocardial infarctions often referred to as a “heart attack”. Heart attacks occur when there is sudden blockage of the coronary arteries, often due to a clot. They are an acute medical emergency and require immediate medical attention. If treatment is not received the heart muscle may suffer irreversible damage and die.

The symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain that often radiates to the left arm and jaw. This may be associated with sweating, shortness of breath and lightheadedness. Treatment in the emergency center will depend on the type of myocardial infarction and may include medication used to dissolve the clot or a procedure called a coronary angioplasty whereby the coronary arteries are dilated, and a stent inserted to keep the artery open. Other medications used in the treatment include blood thinning tablets, cholesterol lowering tablets, pain injections and blood pressure medications.

Heart attacks can be prevented by reducing the risk factors for coronary heart disease. This includes stopping smoking, exercising, controlling Blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. One must also eat a healthy diet with an increase in fruits and vegetables and low in salt and fat. Those at an increased risk can also be started on low dose aspirin based on the doctors’ recommendation.

It is important to recognize symptoms of heart attacks early and seek medical intervention promptly to avoid irreversible damage to the heart muscle.


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