Busting Myths Around Heart Disease
Millions of South Africans get dressed each day to go to work, checking the state of their hair and the way they look as they leave home. But sparing a thought for the state of your heart and arteries inside your body is much more important – and could save your life, says The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA).
An estimated 210 South Africans die each day from heart diseases and the numbers are increasing. “Heart disease and stroke are the second biggest killers in South Africa after HIV/AIDS,” says Professor Pamela Naidoo, the new CEO of the HSFSA. “Our population is becoming less active and our dietary habits are becoming increasingly unhealthy. Conditions that lead to heart disease like obesity, diabetes and hypertension are all on the rise.”
She adds that the impact of heart disease is set to become worse. “But up to 80% of heart disease is preventable,” says Professor Naidoo, who was previously the Research Director of the Psychosocial Well-Being and Behavioural Interventions programme at the SA Human Sciences Research Council and Extraordinary Professor in the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences at the University of the Western Cape.
Know your risk factors
Naidoo says knowing the risk factors for heart disease can inform people how they should act. The most important factors are blood pressure, blood glucose, blood cholesterol and obesity. In the month of September, which is Heart Awareness Month, the HSFSA will be offering free tests for these risk factors at all participating Dischem Pharmacies countrywide.
“The tests are quick to do and are minimally invasive, yet have the potential to save lives and prevent so much pain, discomfort and financial strain,” says Professor Naidoo.
There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding heart disease, she says. One of these is that people with healthy cholesterol levels will never have a heart attack. Other factors also contribute to the risk profile, she says. High blood pressure and a history of smoking could increase the risk for a heart attack.
Another misconception about heart attacks is that they all feel the same. But not everyone suffering from a heart attack feels sharp pain and numbness in one arm. Other symptoms are difficulty breathing, sweating, a cold or clammy feeling and heart palpitations and exhaustion. Women often have different symptoms when having a heart attack.
It is crucial that people are reminded of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, getting enough exercise, eating a balanced diet and not smoking. “There is still so much ignorance around the various risk factors. For instance, someone with high blood pressure could feel perfectly fine but be at great risk of a heart attack,” says Gabriel Eksteen, registered dietitian and health promotion officer at the HSFSA.
High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is often called the silent killer because there are no warning signs when levels are high, causing damage to arteries, putting the heart under strain and paving the way for a heart attack or stroke. Having your blood pressure measured is the only way to know if it’s too high. Adults from the age of 20 should start having their blood pressure checked at least once a year, advises the HSFSA.
Smart little hearts
Many South Africans are also not aware of the fact that children too are affected by heart disease. This is why the Foundation during Heart Awareness Month this year will also raise awareness and funds via the Smart Little Hearts campaign.
The HSFSA aims to improve these children’s lives by upgrading health facilities where children are treated. Seven public paediatric cardiac care units in South Africa have been identified as being in desperate need of attention.
The HSFSA is hoping that more people will sit up and take note of the health of their – hearts this September. “Getting free tests could be the most important thing many South Africans do in the next 30 days,” says Naidoo.
About the Paediatric Cardiac Society of South Africa
The Paediatric Cardiac Society of South Africa is a professional association of paediatric cardiologists and cardiac surgeons with our major objective being to improve the quality of care for children with congenital and acquired heart disease.
About the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA
The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) plays a leading role in the fight against preventable heart disease and stroke, with the aim of seeing fewer people in South Africa suffer premature deaths and disabilities. The HSFSA, established in 1980 is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation which relies on external funding to sustain the work it carries out.
The HSFSA aims to reduce the cardiovascular disease (CVD) burden in South Africa and ultimately on the health care system of South Africa. Our mission is to empower people in South Africa to adopt healthy lifestyles, make healthy choices easier, seek appropriate care and encourage prevention.