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Heart condition that killed President John Magufuli

EXPLAINERS
By Graham Kajilwa | March 18th 2021

Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli (pictured) succumbed to a ‘heart condition’ known as ‘chronic atrial fibrillation’ according to Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

This is an abnormal heart rhythm that cannot be corrected by treatment. But a pacemaker can help in regulating the heart rate to reduce the palpitations and thus reduce chances of a stroke or any other heart failure.

Chronic atrial fibrillation is characterized by irregular heart rate, which has the potential of increasing the risk of stroke, heart failure, and other related complications according to mayoclinic.com.

There are four types of atrial fibrillation: namely occasional whose symptoms go away on their own after a few days, persistent which needs medication to restore normal heart rhythm, long-standing persistent which lasts for more than 12 months, and permanent where one uses prescription medicine to prevent blood clots as a normal heart rhythm cannot be restored.

So how does it happen?

The human heart has four chambers: the upper chambers known as the right and left atria and the lower known as the left and right ventricles.

In this condition, the atria (upper chambers) do not contract in a synchronized manner. As a result, during an ECG (Electrocardiogram which detects abnormal heart rhythms), there will be an irregularly irregular atrial rhythm.

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This irregularly irregular heart rhythm has the patients feeling palpitations or racing of the heart, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath even after normal regular exercises, and chest pains.

When this irregularly irregular heart rhythm happens, there is a pause or stop in the flow of body fluids – in this case, blood – known as stasis. This in turn causes embolism or clot formation.

When this clot –which normally originates from the left atrium –travels inside the blood to the brain it causes a stroke.

“A major concern with atrial fibrillation is the potential to develop blood clots within the upper chambers of the heart. These blood clots forming in the heart may circulate to other organs and lead to blocked blood flow (ischemia),” notes Mayoclinic.com.

How the blood flows

The signal that causes your heart to pump blood (contract and relax), usually travels through the two upper chambers and through the atrioventricular node (a pathway between the upper and lower chambers).

During atrial fibrillation, the signals in the upper chambers –the left and right atria –are jumbled up. As a result, this causes the chambers to quiver or tremble hence the palpitations or pause in blood flow.

While information on Magufuli’s health status has been scanty, opposition leader Tundu Lissu posted on Twitter on Monday saying the late President paralyzed on one side and from the waist down.

But there are other causes of this condition which include: viral infections, stress after surgery, pneumonia, coronary heart disease, stimulants like coffee or alcohol as it increases heart rate, ischemic heart disease, lung diseases among others.

Sometimes, atrial fibrillation or AF may come and go. Such may not require treatment. But if it becomes persistent –then it ends being chronic and it necessities medical intervention.

Sources: webmd.com/mayoclinic.com

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