World Heart Day is on 29 September, and with 210 people dying from heart disease every day, there’s every reason why we should take this seriously.
In fact, after HIV/Aids, heart disease and stroke are the second biggest killers in South Africa . Non-communicable diseases (lifestyle-related conditions), including heart disease, are estimated to account for 43% of the deaths of adults in our country.
The causes of heart disease in SA
There are multiple reasons for this, including a growing obesity epidemic, drinking habits, an inactive lifestyle, and a high number of smokers. Heart disease is also no longer a disease associated with the elderly, as half of people who die from heart attacks in this country are under the age of 65.
Heart disease also affects children. Some children are born with heart defects, while others are affected by unhealthy lifestyle choices. One in five children in SA smokes, and a quarter of children are overweight. South Africa is the first African country to try and combat the obesity epidemic by introducing a sugar tax (April 2017).
High blood pressure
A third of South Africans have high blood pressure , a condition which can narrow and harden the arteries, placing extra stress on your heart, and damaging your other organs as well. It is recommended that everyone has their blood pressure checked on a regular basis. This can be done at some pharmacies, clinics, or at doctors’ surgeries.
High cholesterol levels
Cholesterol, a waxy substance, comes from two sources: your body and your food. Your liver naturally produces cholesterol, which is then circulated through the blood. According to the American Heart Association, a diet high in saturated and trans fats will result in more cholesterol being produced.
Too much cholesterol can form plaque layers on artery walls, which makes it harder for your heart to circulate blood. This build-up of plaque can break open and cause blood clots. When a clot blocks an artery to the brain it can lead to a stroke, and when an artery to the heart gets blocked, it can cause a heart attack.
More on statins
Statins are used to reduce high blood cholesterol levels, and in doing so are possibly preventing heart attacks and other diseases caused by narrowed arteries.
There are specific new guidelines for patients for whom statins are prescribed. The new guidelines focus on an individual’s heart attack or stroke risk, and not just on general cholesterol levels. Your doctor will be able to tell you whether you fall into any of those categories.
However, taking statins is not completely risk-free. In a small number of patients they can cause muscle pain and injury; sometimes liver problems; an increase in blood sugar levels; and possible memory issues. It is essential that you discuss any of these side effects you may be experiencing with your doctor.
heartfoundation.co.za. (2007) Official website of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa. [online]. Available at: http://www.heartfoundation.co.za/sites/default/files/Heart%20Disease%20in%20SA%20MRC%20Report.pdf. Accessed on 31 August 2016.
worldheartfederation.org. Official website of the World Heart Federation. Available at: http://www.world-heart-federation.org/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/Fact_sheets/2016/Cardiovascular_diseases_in_South_Africa.pdf. Accessed on 1 September2016.
heart.org. (2015) Official website of the American Heart Association. [online] Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/WhyBloodPressureMatters/Heart-and-Artery-Damage-and-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_301823_Article.jsp#.V8afpzWAQVA. Accessed on 31 August 2016.
Opie. L and Dalby A. (2014) Cardiovascular Prevention: Lifestyle and statins – competitors or companions? South African Medical Journal. Vol.104 no.3. Available at: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0256-95742014000300014. Accessed on 8 September 2016.09.08