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Chewing of betelnut can cause sudden cardiac death, warns doctors in PNG

Betelnut or ‘buai’ and its chewing can lead to an early grave.

The popular nut had been the hot topic of discussion recently mainly in the Nation’s Capital because its spittle had been an eye sore to the public.

Derived from the Areca palm tree, betelnut is chewed by many Papua New Guineans because of its glow and stimulating properties.

However, latest reports by the emergency doctors at Port Moresby General Hospital had revealed that the nut was not only responsible for degrading the environment and causing mouth cancer, it is also responsible for numerous deaths.

Chief of emergency medicine doctor Sam Yockopua warned that betelnut chewing can cause sudden cardiac death.

“Over the years, we have seen and certified numerous sudden deaths. The typical history is that the subject was chewing betelnut, then suddenly collapsed and passed on,” explained the chief emergency doctor at Port Moresby General Hospital.

“When brought in, they only contribute to the statistics, no way to be revived.”

In addition to popular stimulants like nicotine, alcohol and caffeine, betelnut are believed to be one of the strongest substances that stimulates the mind.

However, its benefits are short-lived.

Betelnut does not only cause sudden death and mouth cancer; it can also spread TB and promote poor oral hygiene.

The country’s green gold contains an alkaloid known as arecoline which causes a variety of direct actions to the heart as well as causes the heart rate to go faster, which may explain the cause(s) of sudden deaths.

“Betelnut does precipitate heart attacks because it raises the heart rate and puts more demand on the heart,” said Dr Isaac Rami, an emergency Doctor at Port Moresby General Hospital.

“Think twice while chewing betelnut,” warned Dr. Yokopua.

Simple Emergency and First Aid Responder Actions if anything happens while chewing.

Spit out betelnut, rinse mouth. Drink some water, not too much!
Sit down, relax, calm down. Lie down if dizzy.
Breathe in, deep breaths, hold and “push” with your mouth and nose closed. Repeat 2-4 times or – —breath in, deep breaths, hold and “push” with your mouth and nose closed. Repeat 2-4 times or so.
If the subject does not breath or gets a “black-out”, give a big blow to the chest. Check for response, and commence immediate CPR.
Mouth-to- mouth breaths and cardiac or chest compressions at the scene for good 20 minutes or so is very crucial.
Get help quickly. Call ambulance. St John Ambulance is 111 (free call).
“Do not rush to the hospital, you do things right there, at the scene. Get someone else to arrange the ambulance while you focus on the subject,” said Doctor Yockopua.
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