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Do your feet keep swelling? It might be time for some heart tests

 Triggers of the diseases are changes in lifestyle, tobacco use, excessive use of alcohol, lack of activity, diet and stress. [iStockphoto]

If you're experiencing swelling of your feet, coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue, these could be signs of cardiovascular disease, according to experts.

Dr Allan Pamba, says that despite cardiovascular-related diseases being on the rise, its diagnosis remains low.

Cardiovascular diseases are heart-related conditions that, collectively, are a major concern in Kenya and globally.  

In Africa, about one million cardiovascular-related deaths are reported annually, translating to about five per cent of the disease burden globally.

"Cardiovascular and non-communicable diseases, in general, are rising so fast. In Kenya, it is worrying because most of the cases in remote parts of the country are not diagnosed. People die in the remote villages without being attended to," says Dr Pamba, the Vice President Diagnostic, Africa at Roche Diagnostic.

Examples of cardiovascular diseases are abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias, Coronary artery disease (narrowing of the arteries), deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, heart attack, heart failure and heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)

 Dr Allan Pamba

Triggers of the diseases are changes in lifestyle, tobacco use, excessive use of alcohol, lack of activity, diet and stress.

“People are living with a lot of stress which greatly affects the functioning of the heart. The risk factors are more in cities than rural areas,” says Dr Pamba.

“Lifestyles are changing both in Kenya and globally. A lot of people are moving to the cities," he says.

In Kenya, the most common cardiovascular diseases witnessed include heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease common among people who smoke, as it results in loss of functioning of different body organs.

The heart is the most powerful muscle in the body. It moves around 10,000 litres of blood around the body every day.

“If the heart is not functioning well, the body functions are compromised, because the main reason it pumps the blood is that the blood is the lifeline of the body because it has food and oxygen needed for functionality of the body, and takes out toxins like carbon dioxide," Dr Pamba explains.

"The heart is very critical and central to our being alive and working," he adds.

Historically, cardiovascular diseases were reported among the elderly, but with time, younger people and individuals within age brackets of 40-50 years are being diagnosed more. Unfortunately, diagnosis is done at advanced stages resulting in deaths.

“In the overall health system of our country, what budget are we putting into diagnosis? If you can't diagnose, you can't treat,” observes Pamba.

Low diagnosis is also attributed to a lack of awareness.

“We need to educate the community about the risk factors of heart disease. For example, people should avoid smoking, be active physically, climb stairs instead of lifts, avoid processed foods and learn better ways of managing stress,” he says.

He emphasises, “If you see your legs swelling, are coughing, feeling tired, are not able to walk, and have shortness of breath, you need to have the heart examined.”

Though the country is struggling with an acute shortage of specialists, Pamba encourages individuals presenting with the early signs to visit hospitals with informed decision-treatment or referrals to more specialised centres.

[email protected]   

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