A Professor of Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos (LUTH), Amam Chinyere Mbakwem, has assured Nigerian physicians treating patients with a high risk of stroke that there is a sure procedure to prevent the condition.
This is as she disclosed that only about one-third of 10 million Nigerians suffering from hypertension are on effective treatment. The effect of this, according to her, is that there is a continuous rise in the number of diagnoses, thereby placing unnecessary pressure on the few physicians attending to patients whenever there is an attack.
Noting that stroke can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention, she said the use of anticoagulants or blood thinners – medicines that prevent blood clots from forming – can be of significant help.
According to her, “They do not break up clots that you already have, but they can stop those clots from getting bigger. It’s important to treat blood clots, because clots in your blood vessels and heart can cause heart attacks, strokes, and blockage.”
She continued: “We have hope for Nigeria in managing stroke, we have better tools to pick up the pieces, but the issue is that can patients afford the cutting edge maximum treatment we want to give them and this is where health insurance comes in.”
Mbakwem, who was the keynote speaker at the relaunch of Eliquis, a brand of apixban, produced by Pfizer, said anticoagulant medications are used in the treatment and prevention of blood clots in people with an irregular heartbeat, called atrial fibrillation.
Speaking on the topic, “Unmet needs in stroke prevention for high risk patients with NVAF – Nigeria perspective”, the consultant cardiologist stated that the apixban drug prevents blood clots from forming in the heart of patients with atrial fibrillation, venous thromboembolism (VTE) and at least one additional risk factor.
She described VTE as referring to blood clots in the veins, which, she said, is a serious, yet preventable medical condition that can cause disability and death.
In her words, “Blood clots may break off and travel to the brain and lead to a stroke or to other organs and prevent normal blood flow to that organ, also known as a systemic embolism.
“Increasing evidence has shown that blood thinner medicines play an important role in the progression of preventing blood clots from forming. An abnormal heartbeat is associated with considerable morbidity, including an increased risk of cognitive impairment, a three-fold increase in the risk of heart failure, and a five-fold increase in the risk of stroke.
“However, anticoagulants are prescribed for people at a high risk of getting clots, to reduce their chances of developing serious conditions such as strokes and heart attacks. In Nigeria and most of the world, this is still more male-dominated than female, with a ratio of about 60 to 40 per cent. Women start to catch up with men after menopause, with about 70 to 80 per cent of heart diseases being preventable.”
To prevent stroke naturally, Mbakwem urged Nigerians to control their risk factors for the condition, which are hypertension, diabetes and obesity. She also recommends regular exercise and avoidance of alcohol and cigarettes.
She, however added that these are factors that can be controlled, noting that “there are ailments humans are born with, but with early diagnosis, there are a lot of things that can be changed, which will reduce the occurrence of atrial fibrillation.”
The erudite specialist further mentioned Universal Health Coverage as one of the unmet needs in stroke management. The other, she said, is continuous training of medical professionals to be updated on recent trends in healthcare sector.
“Universal Health Coverage, is also crucial for the prevention of stroke, as most patients cannot afford the treatment, but if we get the Universal Health Coverage in place, and people are paying in bits, then people will get help, because what would happen is that anyone diagnosed will be given attention before it becomes late,” she said.
In his speech at the occasion, Pharm. Olayinka Subair, cluster lead (West Africa) at Pfizer, reiterated the company’s commitment to healthcare for more than 150 years ago and its engagements in the sector as a leader with persistent commitment to health challenges in Nigeria and across the globe.
He said, “For more than 150 years globally, Pfizer has been a leader in tackling some of the most persistent healthcare challenges through the breakthrough medicines and vaccines we discover, develop, and bring to market. Our medical breakthroughs change people’s lives as we focus on the areas of greatest need, tackling the diseases that present the biggest challenge across countries and regions.
“While advocacy on the management of heart conditions like atrial fibrillation and blood glucose level are gaining ground, there is still a lot to be done to create necessary awareness among patients and practitioners because knowledge and experience have shown that complications from heart conditions are preventable and reversible when identified early”.