Why Heart Disease Doesn’t Have to be a Life Sentence
Looking after your heart should be a priority for anyone who wants to live a long life. And according to South African statistics – this message isn’t quite hitting home yet as heart disease is, still, the number one killer in the country. In fact, 1:3 men and 1:4 women will develop a heart condition before the age of 60. (1)
While people may be at greater risk of developing heart disease with age – don’t let this claim fool you. Heart disease is a problem faced by many people of all ages: behavioural habits such as lack of exercise, stress, smoking, obesity and an unhealthy diet are all severe contributing factors.
“We want every South African to understand the link between lifestyle and cardiovascular disease,” says Dr Shanil Naidoo, Medical Director of Boehringer Ingelheim. “Healthy lifestyle choices significantly decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes and have the further benefit of improving an individual’s quality of life.” (2)
How should you manage your heart disease risk or diagnosis?
Firstly, you need to know how to spot the risks and deal with them properly. A heart attack occurs when an artery that carries oxygen to the heart becomes blocked, usually by a blood clot. The likelihood of such a blockage increases when the arteries are narrowed by fatty cholesterol deposits or plaques. This condition is referred to as coronary artery disease.
Coronary heart disease is, specifically, underestimated in young adults ages 18-35. A study conducted by the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Rhode Island and the Department of Nutritional Sciences at University of Connecticut , found that: coronary heart disease accounts for 50% of heart disease related deaths and is the leading cause of death in young adults. (3) (4)
Besides the most common behavioural risks, listed above, the most frequently encountered medical risks you should be aware of include: diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“Many South Africans have uncontrolled or undiagnosed hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol,” says Dr Naidoo. “These individuals are placing themselves at an even higher risk of having heart attacks or strokes.”
A study in 2014 showed that 78% of South Africans aged 50 years and older had hypertension. Less than 40% of those surveyed were aware of their diagnosis, and only 7% had their hypertension under control. (3)
While we cannot change our genetics or age, it is important to understand that we need to be disciplined about lifestyles choices which include regular medical check-ups. Obesity has more than doubled in children, and more than tripled in young adults and adults. Increasing one’s chance of developing heart diseases by 2-4% each year.
How do you recognise a heart attack?
In many cases, survival and recovery are perfectly possible after a heart attack – provided you know what to do and get to work instantly. (4) Your speed of reaction is absolutely critical when it comes to surviving a heart attack and regaining good health. Look out for symptoms such as:
- Heavy pressure, tightness, unusual discomfort or crushing pain in the centre of your chest.
- Spreading of this sensation to the shoulders, arms, neck or jaw that lasts for more than 15 minutes – and could stop or weaken and then return.
- Sweating, nausea, faintness or shortness of breath.
- A rapid or weak heart pulse.
Other things you should remember include:
- Women may have different symptoms to men, with more pronounced nausea, dizziness and anxiety.
- A heart attack can be silent and produce no signs or symptoms.
- A sharp stabbing pain in the left side of the chest is usually not heart pain.
What to do if you experience or witness a heart attack?
If you have someone in your life who suffers from poor heart health, it could be worth your while knowing how to handle an emergency situation:
- If unexplained chest pain lasts for more than a few minutes, do not delay, do not try and figure out the cause, call an ambulance and state that you are dealing with a suspected heart attack.
- If the ambulance is delayed, access private transport to get to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. On arrival, advise the staff this is a suspected heart attack.
- If you have been trained and you are near a person who loses consciousness due to these symptoms, perform chest compressions at a rate of about 100 per minute.
How can you take better care of your heart?
1. Fill up your diet with foods proven to strengthen and boost your heart health, such as:
- Nuts and seeds;
- salmon and trout;
- leafy green vegetables including spinach, collard greens and kale;
- fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, and prunes;
- whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread or tortillas.
2. Get your heart racing with some sport, such as:
- Brisk walking,
- cycling and
- interval or circuit training.
3. Eliminate unhealthy habits, such as:
- excessive drinking;
- eating a high-sugar diet;
- eating a high sodium diet and
- yo-yo dieting.
It is essential for you to know how health your heart is, which is why we encourage you and every family member to undergo screening, as they are they indentify both the controllable and uncontrollable risk factors that may contribute to heart disease.