Heart disease in South Africa reaching “alarming proportions”

One in three men and one in four women will have a heart condition by age 60

Friday, September 13 2013

As South Africa’s population becomes increasingly urbanised and less active, serious heart conditions are on the rise and reaching “alarming proportions”, according to Dr Anchen Laubscher, medical director of the Netcare Hospital Division. “One in three men and one in four women will have a heart condition of one kind or another by the time they reach the age of 60. This avoidable health crisis will increasingly strain our healthcare system unless individuals take ownership of their health and lifestyle choices,” she says.

Commenting during National Heart Awareness Month, Dr Laubscher says in recent years South Africans have become more sedentary. We are exercising less and our diets have deteriorated as we are consuming more and more processed and ‘junk food. This is bad news for our health in general and more specifically, for our hearts. Cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and obesity have increased dramatically,” Dr Laubscher points out.

Dr Laubscher adds that being overweight (generally measured by ones Body Mass Index), having high blood pressure (hypertension), with uncontrolled high blood sugar levels or high cholesterol, all put us at risk of heart disease. “Most people are unaware that they are developing cardiovascular disease. During the early stages, complications of risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure develop without any warning. . This is why high blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer’,” she cautions.

Because there may be no indications that we are developing heart disease, we should discuss our risk factors with our doctor, particularly if there is a history of heart disease or any of the afore mentioned risk factors in the family. According to Laubscher, we should have our blood pressure checked at least annually if the results of a test are within normal limits, or more often if the results are borderline or high. “When a condition such as high blood pressure is detected early, timeous and effective treatment can reverse the progression of heart disease and make a world of difference to the health of the person involved,” she says.

Another common disease that can affect the heart and cardiovascular system is coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is usually caused by atherosclerosis, which is a build-up of fatty deposits of cholesterol and other materials on the walls of the arteries. The arteries become narrowed by the fatty deposits, which restricts the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart and other vital organs such as the brain and kidneys.

“This is potentially a very dangerous medical condition as it can place a great deal of strain on the heart. A heart attack will result if an artery is blocked by the fatty deposits. Some people have a genetic predisposition to atherosclerosis and an unhealthy lifestyle increases the risk,” notes Laubscher

Heart disease often develops in people who smoke, eat foods high in saturated fats, have high stress levels and get little exercise. These are modifiable risk factors which can be addressed by improving your lifestyle. Not only will this benefit your heart, but will benefit your health in general.

Laubscher advises all South Africans to adopt a diet that is low in saturated fats and rich in foods such as fish, raw nuts, vegetables and fruit. Those who smoke should stop while heavy drinkers should limit their drinking. Even a moderate amount of physical exercise every week has been shown to have numerous benefits.

Managing director of the Netcare hospital division, Jacques du Plessis, says we all need to take responsibility for protecting our heart’s health. “Don’t wait for the consequences of your lifestyle choices to impact your health negatively. Start choosing the healthier route now,” he adds.

Du Plesssis says this National Heart Awareness Month Netcare wants to remind all South Africans how important it is that they take the necessary steps to maintain their cardio-vascular health. “For this reason many of our facilities around the country are conducting awareness campaigns,” He adds.


Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Sarah Beswick
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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