Information provided by The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa provides some motivation to reduce the risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) when one considers that:
- After HIV/ AIDS, heart disease and strokes are South Africa’s biggest killers.
- Every hour in South Africa, 5 people suffer heart attacks and 10 people have strokes.
- More South Africans die of CVD than all of the cancers combined.
Some context behind this information provides clues as to why CVD is so prevalent in South Africa:
- We have one of the highest levels of overweight and obese people in the world, a contributing factor to heart disease.
- 80% of premature deaths (before age 60) can be prevented with a healthy diet, regular exercises and by avoiding smoking.
Let’s look at some of the medical conditions which can increase your risk of heart disease, as outlined by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- High Blood Pressure is a major risk for heart disease and, if not controlled, can affect not only your heart but other organs, including you kidneys and brain. High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” as it can go unnoticed. Lowering your blood pressure through lifestyle changes or medication can reduce your risk of heart disease.
- High Cholesterol is either “good” or “bad” cholesterol, but “bad” or high cholesterol can decrease blood flow to the heart, brain and kidneys among others. A blood test can detect the state of your cholesterol and lead to treatment.
- Diabetes, which causes sugars to build up in the blood, increases the risk for heart disease. Once diagnosed, your GP can help you to manage this condition.
- Obesity is excess body fat and can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Statistics from The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa amplifies the need to change behavior by noting that 1 in 10 children are already suffering from high blood pressure; 50% of people with high blood pressure are unaware of it; almost 8 out of 10 South Africans over 50 years of age have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the highest percentage in the world.
Apart from visiting your GP or pharmacy clinic to check your cholesterol, sugar levels, blood pressure or BMI (Body Mass Index), what can you do to reduce your chances of cardiovascular disease? The CDC has some suggestions:
- Healthy diet. See a dietician to help you if need be but steer clear of diets high in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol. Too much salt (sodium) can raise blood pressure levels.
- Regular physical activity can lower your risk for heart disease. If you’re not active, your risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure increases.
- Excessive alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk for heart disease, also increasing triglycerides, a form of cholesterol, which can harden arteries.
- Tobacco smoking increases the risk for heart disease and heart attacks by damaging the heart and blood vessels. Nicotine raises blood pressure and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry. Secondhand smoke also creates risk for non-smokers.
September is Heart Awareness Month but your GP and pharmacist is available every day to help you to reduce your risk for heart disease and live a healthier lifestyle.
While all reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of information contained in this article, information may change or become dated, as new developments occur. The Link group shall not be held liable or accountable for the accuracy, completeness or correctness of any information for any purpose.