Understanding Sudden Deaths
With the recent alarming rate of sudden deaths in Nigeria, Martins Ifijeh writes on their causes and prevention
While Nigerians continue to observe with optimism, the relative decline in disease outbreaks in the country, several families have not stopped telling their recent but sad true life stories of how they are losing their loved ones to sudden deaths with no sign of ill health or prior complain as a warning.
One of such families is the Olalekans who lost the mother of the house, Mrs. Remi, 51, in a fit of time without any clinical manifestation. She had left Ibadan to Lagos as a healthy woman ready to assist her daughter who just gave birth. But she could barely stay only two days in Lagos before she slumped and then died just like that.
“My mum never complained of fever, headache or anything. In fact, that morning she bathed my little baby, discussed with me on a lot of issues. I did not know she won’t be able to live more than that very day. By that afternoon, she fell and started gasping for breathe. That was how we rushed her to the hospital and the doctor declared her dead.”
She said according to the doctor, the mother had a heart attack and was probably suffering from hypertension, which was unknown to her and other members of the family. Remi’s death, no doubt will remain a big shock for the family as no one had premonition or a prepared mind towards what was to come.
The Olalekans are not the only ones who have suddenly lost loved one or know someone that has lost loved one. In fact, it has become a daily occurrence across the country, even with prominent figures becoming victims of the new trend, no thanks to the creepy consequence of silent killers.
For instance, one of the country’s greatest football legend-turn coach of the national team, Stephen Keshi, who otherwise was seen to be healthy and full of life, suddenly went to the ground, gasped for breathe, and then was gone. He was, as matter of fact billed to be on a flight the next day to the United States to see his family (not for medical checkup).
Just as the country was still thrown into shock on the manner he was lost, another former coach of the national team, Amodu Shuaibu, who had, a day before his death paid a condolence visit to the Keshi family, also suffered same fate. Doctors described his as cardiac attack, which unfortunately could not be remedied as at the time he was taken to the hospital.
Just recently, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Ifako-Ijaiye Constituency of Lagos State, Hon. Elijah Adewale slumped and died. He was said to have participated actively in a caucus meeting of the House of Representatives an evening before the unfortunate incident. He was not known to be suffering from any chronic illness prior to his death.
Among other prominent Nigerians who have lost their lives suddenly include the former Ondo State Governor, Segun Agagu, former Deputy Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Zannah Umar Mustapha, former Ondo State Commissioner for Information, Ranti Akerele, former Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Tonye Ezekiel and his Taraba counterpart, HarunaTsokwa, just to mention but a few.
In less than two years, the country has lost prominent sons and daughers, who are mostly at their prime, to sudden deaths, leaving the country at the mercy of the scourge, as no one knows who is next in line for the sudden attack that hardly spares its victims.
Information from health experts, however showed that hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives to sudden death in recent times, even though the cases of the prominent Nigerians are mostly heard.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines sudden deaths as death occurring within 24 hours of an abrupt change in one’s previous clinical status, adding that it was becoming prevalent in sub-Sahara African countries like Nigeria.
Sudden death is said to occur when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the blood flow to the heart, preventing oxygen from getting to the heart. A lack of oxygen-containing blood flowing to the heart results in the loss of heart muscle.
Experts believed despite the myth by most Nigerians that sudden unexpected deaths are due to over thinking, stress, diabolical powers or the emerging economic hardships in the country, the causes of the new trend may go beyond that. Experts say the likely factors may not be unconnected with hypertension, stroke and heart attack, stating clearly that they could be preventable if Nigerians are conscious of their health status and live healthy lives.
A recent research conducted by some teaching hospitals in the country, including the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH); Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH); University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH); and the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH), specifically showed that stroke and heart attack represents the major causes of the sudden and unexpected deaths (SUD) in the country.
The study says that the prevention of stroke and heart attack will undoubtedly reduce sudden deaths by 93.7 per cent, with emphasis laid on awareness, improvement and management of hypertension, which has been said to be a key driver for stroke and heart attacks.
The American Heart Foundation has suggested that any factor that physiologically puts the blood pressure in its normal/healthy stage, will in no small measure aid in reduction of stroke and heart attacks prevalence, which experts have implicated in different studies to majorly cause sudden deaths.
The Foundation, on its website, noted that high blood pressure damages arteries throughout the body, such that they burst or clog more easily, adding that weakened arteries in the brain put one at much higher risk for stroke.
“About 87 per cent of strokes are ischemic, which are caused by narrowed or clogged blood vessels in the brain that cut off the blood flow to the brain cells. Because HBP damages arteries throughout the body, it is critical to keep one’s blood pressure within acceptable ranges to protect the brain from this often disabling or fatal event,” the AHF noted.
It also noted that apart from hypertension, which is a chief agent for stroke and heart attack, other factors that may cause sudden death include aggressive lifestyles, cigarette smoking, obesity, diabetes, among other non communicable diseases, which are unfortunately on the rise in Nigeria.
No wonder the Medical Advisor, Novartis Pharmaceutical Services, Dr. Chinwe Adebiyi, stated that when Nigerians adopt healthy lifestyles, non communicable diseases, including cardiac issues will be reduced significantly in the country.
According to her, habits to be stopped includes: lack of exercise, lack of sleep, reduction of caffeine intake, weight loss, reduction in salt intake, reduction in alcohol consumption, among others. Adding that if Nigerians cut short on fast foods, processed, as well as canned foods, and patronise vegetables and fruits, it would help a long way in reducing the prevalence rate of NCDs in the country.
A recent study conducted by the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, showed that in addition to the unhealthy lifestyle changes of Nigerians, their poor medical checkup habits has also been a major factor for sudden deaths and cardiac and vascular issues in the country.
True, the Ministry of Health has in recent times raised the alarm over poor medical check up habits by Nigerians, adding that, when the habits are imbibed, most health issues would be able to be nipped in the bud before they go out of hand.
Another factor, according to the study is the lack of patient data, as this has affected specific interventions, which should be tailored into tackling the scourge.
Lending his voice, the Director General, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Prof. Innocent Ujah, while chatting with newsmen said the cultural belief that sudden deaths were not natural but linked to diabolical attacks, was one of the impediments to medical solution to some of the diseases, adding that it was easier to address some medical health conditions that could lead to sudden death when people adopt regular medical check-ups.
While sudden deaths remain a common occurrence in the country, the awareness by the citizens on its causes and preventions, as well as government’s conscious efforts to deal with the scourge can help tackle the challenge.