AFCON 2023: Sports can trigger heart attacks, strokes, society tells Nigerians 

The Nigerian Cardiac Society has urged Nigerians to pay adequate attention to their cardiovascular health, warning that sports and other emotional events could trigger arrhythmias, heart attacks and strokes in those with underlying heart conditions.

The warning followed recent reported incidents of sudden deaths associated with football matches.

About four Nigerians lost their lives while watching the football match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Bafana Bafana of South Africa on Wednesday.

The society in a statement signed by its President,  Prof. Augustine Odili,  noted with concern several reported cases of sudden deaths among Nigerians both at home and abroad, directly or indirectly linked with the surge of emotions associated with the Nigeria – South Africa Match during the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2023) competition holding in Cote D’Ivoire.

Commiserating with families of the deceased, the society reminded Nigerians of the need to pay attention to their cardiovascular health, especially those with underlying heart-related conditions while also listing the major risk factors.

According to the society, about 50 per cent of all deaths from heart diseases are sudden regardless of the etiology, adding that 89 per cent of all sudden cardiac deaths occur outside the hospital and less than 40 per cent are witnessed.

Odili explained,” The untimely deaths of these Nigerians are a stark reminder that we must be vigilant about our cardiovascular health. Sports and other emotional events can trigger arrhythmias, heart attacks, and strokes in those with underlying heart conditions.

“The causes of sudden death are as varied as its presentation. They include complications of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, cardiomyopathies, valvular disorders, pulmonary thromboembolism, aortic aneurysms, status epilepticus, inherited arrhythmogenic channelopathies (including long QT syndrome, Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome, familial Brugada syndrome and short QT syndrome).

“The risk factors for heart disease are many. The most common, and by far, the important ones are related to lifestyle such as lack of physical exercise, smoking tobacco, consuming alcohol, eating unhealthy diets rich in salt and saturated fats, and low in fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Other risk factors include high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood lipids/cholesterol (dyslipidaemia), overweight and obesity, and diabetes mellitus.

“Hypertension is the most common risk factor for heart disease and stroke in Nigeria. Sadly, three out of every ten adult Nigerians have high blood pressure, many of whom are unaware of their hypertensive status.”

The NCS president said effective blood pressure control was a major panacea for reducing the cardiovascular risk of affected people.”

He added, “Several reports have documented a very high prevalence of many cardiovascular risk factors including obesity, metabolic syndrome, smoking including passive smoking) drug abuse (recreational drug use), alcohol intake, and physical inactivity among Nigerians.

“The risk of sudden death varies with the cardiovascular risk factor, the severity of the disease, genetics, and other precipitating factors among which may be acute stressful reactions to which the link with these recent deaths can be associated.

“It must be emphasised that many of these cardiovascular risk factors are without symptoms and signs.

“Therefore, screening is the only effective mechanism for early identification and appropriate control and prevention of sudden death among the populace.”

The NCS advised Nigerians to learn the warning signs of cardiac distress and how to respond in an emergency.

“Know your family history and risk factors and get regular screenings. Take steps to manage conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

“Avoid smoking, eat healthy, exercise, and manage stress. For those with heart disease, take medications as prescribed and follow your doctor’s advice.

“Avoid getting overly excited during games and take breaks as needed. Have emergency numbers handy and don’t hesitate to call for help. Better to miss a play than miss a life.

“Warning symptoms preceding a sudden death may include chest pain, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fainting attacks.

“It should be noted that left-sided chest pain should not be taken with levity and should warrant a medical examination”, the society counselled.

The society also called on the government to increase the funding for health to encourage early and regular screening for cardiovascular risk factors.

“There is also an urgent need for institutionalising effective cardiovascular care among Nigerians by providing adequate facilities for the hospitals, encouraging adequate remuneration for health workers to discourage brain drain in the health sector, and promoting effective lifestyle modification to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease among the population”, the society added.


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