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Five things that harm your heart health

The heart is the most important organ when it comes to circulating blood, oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body.

It is also key in removing carbondioxide from blood by directing it to the lungs where air exchange happens. Dr John Omagino, the director of Uganda Heart Institute (UHI), says the human heart beats about 72 times per minute and continues to do so until one dies, unless interrupted. He explicates two broad types of heart conditions that may cause this interruption.

These are; congenital heart defects and acquired heart diseases. Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart’s structure which are present at birth and change the normal flow of blood through the heart.

“Such defects affect about 15,000 babies in Uganda every year and 50 per cent (7,500) of these usually require surgery. It is estimated that 1,000 of these can be handled at the present facility at UHI,” Dr Omagino tells The Observer in an interview.

On the other hand, acquired heart diseases include those related to infections such as rheumatic heart disease; those related to metabolism or accumulation of bad cholesterol; those related to chemicals or toxins such as alcohol and nicotine and others related to diseases such as diabetes.

Below, we explore five things that may predispose you to the risk of acquiring cardiovascular diseases.


This is a medical condition that occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that transfers glucose from the blood stream into the cells to be used as energy.

“Diabetes and heart disease are bedfellows. If one has diabetes, it means that the body cannot make proper use of glucose. It therefore builds up in the blood instead of moving to the cells, causing plaque to accumulate. This narrows blood vessels, causing strain on the heart,” Omagino explains.


This is also known as high blood pressure and this is usually within the blood vessels. According to the US National Library of Medicine, as the heart pumps against this pressure, it must work harder. Over time, this causes the heart muscle to thicken, which when combined with cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“We are having an unfolding emergency in this country. About 22 per cent of people in the rural community are hypertensive and we register at least two people with a heart attack due to hypertension at the institute,” Omagino notes.


According to Dr Omagino, consuming large amounts of alcohol can raise one’s blood pressure to unhealthy levels. As a result, the heart muscles become weakened, causing a condition called dilative cardiomyopathy. As a result, the heart cannot pump efficiently.


Cigarettes contain several chemicals which are toxic to the body. Among these is nicotine which narrows the blood vessels thus inserting more pressure on the heart and also paralyses the cilia (small hairs in the lungs).

“The lungs protect themselves with a thin layer of mucus and by moving toxic particles out with the cilia. However, in a smoker’s lungs, these cilia move slower and struggle to remove the toxins. Because the heart is intrinsically linked to the lungs, when these toxins accumulate, they put one at the risk of heart disease and even stroke,” Omagino says.


The old adage, ‘all work without play makes Jack a dull boy holds as much relevance as night to a burglar. Dr Omagino observes that the right to play is being robbed of many school-going children as new schools are being licensed without play grounds.

At workplaces, corporates are spending more time behind their computers.Such lifestyles predispose one to the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. 

Other factors that may harm one’s heart include accumulation of bad cholesterol (low- density lipoprotein) in the arteries, high consumption of salt and over consumption of fast foods.

To maintain proper heart health, Dr Omagino urges lifestyle modification such as eating more fruits and vegetables than fried foods and reducing salt intake, ensuring regular exercise and reducing tobacco and alcohol consumption. “It is also important that everyone does a health audit regularly to be able to detect conditions such as diabetes and hypertension before it is too late.

Also, foods on the open market should be monitored to ensure appropriate salt levels as is being done in UK,” Dr Omagino says. Additionally, policies for regular health check-up of school going children need to be enforced.


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