When we think of heart
attacks and cardiovascular disease (CVD) our immediate assumption is that it’s
a male problem but the truth is that it’s the world’s leading cause of
premature death and the number one killer of women.
Perceptions need to change
Latest statistics indicate that, around the world, more than two million women die every year due to CVD (including both heart disease and stroke).
The Heart and Stroke
Foundation SA says that one in four women will have some form of heart
condition before the age of 60 and that once they reach menopause the risk of
heart disease increases threefold.
"It’s time for us to
change the perception around heart disease," says Dr Bobby Ramasia, Principal
Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund. "The majority of CVDs are preventable so we
need to make everyone, but especially women, more aware of the risks, the
symptoms and how to take care of their heart."
One of the main reasons
women are less aware of heart disease is that it usually affects them about 10
years later than men and also presents differently. Typical heart attack
symptoms in women tend not to be the classic tightness, discomfort or chest
pain, instead there are a wide range of sensations which could include an uneasy
feeling in the chest, abdominal pain, a fluttering heartbeat, shortness of
breath, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and swollen feet.
Read: Heart disease: shock facts
Because the symptoms
differ, they can be easily missed or put down to another illness, plus women
often wait longer to go to hospital when having a heart attack – which means
they are at a higher risk of dying, or being disabled, as a result of a heart
attack than men.
Last year during Heart
Awareness Month, the Heart and Stroke Foundation compared heart disease to our
crime statistics and noted that while 49 people were murdered in South Africa
every day between 2014 and 2015, a whopping 210 people died from heart
disease daily ... with women a large percentage of that number.
CVD is known as a
non-communicable disease (NCD) and the World Health Organisation estimates the
burden of NCDs in South Africa to be two to three times higher than in developed
countries, accounting for up to 43% of total adult deaths. Of these NCD deaths,
a fifth are CVDs. Locally the proportion of deaths in women aged between
35–59 years is one and a half times more likely than that of women in the US.
Globally 80% of CVD deaths occur in low- to middle-income countries.
Read: SA to tackle chronic lifestyle diseases
The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, says that NCDs are
the leading cause of death globally, and the number of deaths is higher than all other causes combined, most of
which occur in low and middle income countries. The National Policy on Chronic
NCD Prevention addresses diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and chronic respiratory disease.
Strategies for the reduction of the major risk
factors – smoking, alcohol, obesity, unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyles – are
implemented through the existing health network, with the support of both
government and non-government organisations in the country.
The 5th World
Congress of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Heath held recently in Mexico,
attended by health professionals, policy experts and scientists from around the
world, was aimed at addressing the CVD epidemic, especially in women. During
the Congress, a global declaration on heart health was signed as a unified
commitment to address CVDs.
Urgent action required
Called "The Mexico
Declaration for Circulatory Health", it commits to improving circulatory health
and reducing deaths and disability from heart disease and stroke around the
world. These diseases presently represent the biggest health burden
world-wide, accounting for over 17 million deaths every year.
Declaration recognises that unless health professionals, business and the
public take urgent action, the number of premature deaths will keep
increasing. It also calls on NGOs to improve national education and training
programmes to help improve diagnoses and treatment. The aim is towards a 25x25
goal: a 25% reduction in premature CVD morbidity and mortality by 2025.
Read: Heart diseases tied to mental decline
"The tragedy is that the
majority of CVD’s are preventable," says Dr Ramasia. "Preventing and managing
CVDs is vital and this means as well as educating health professionals on what
to look out for and treatment, we also need women to realise the severity of
heart disease and that it is one of their biggest health threats. Now is the
time to take action."
How? Lack of exercise, a
poor diet and unhealthy habits all contribute towards ill health. But
you’re never too young – or old – to take care of your heart. Here’s how:
- Get active. For a healthy heart, aim for at least 2 ½
hours of moderate physical activity each week.
- Control cholesterol. We all have cholesterol and
there are two types: the good kind (HLD) and the bad kind (LDL). High levels of
bad cholesterol can clog your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack
and stroke. This is where good cholesterol comes into play: HDL cleans out that
bad cholesterol from the arteries
- Eat better. Eating the right foods can help
you control your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Follow a
balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy
- Manage blood pressure by managing your stress. Keeping
your blood pressure in a healthy range starts with eating a heart-healthy diet. Other important factors are exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy
weight, limiting salt and alcohol, and reducing your stress levels.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity
are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. 31.3% of adults in SA are obese.
Higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Reduce blood sugar. Diabetes is a risk
factor. Heart disease death rates among adults with diabetes are 2 to 4
times higher. You can minimise the impact of diabetes on your body – and even
prevent or delay its onset – by eating correctly, controlling your weight,
exercising and taking the medication prescribed by your doctor.
- Stop smoking. It’s time to kick the habit.
Going smoke-free can help reduce risk of heart disease and stroke as well as
cancer and chronic lung disease.
- Know your family history. A relative, especially a
parent or sibling, with heart disease increases your risk of CVD.
- Learn the
warning signs of a heart attack and stroke.
Some of the CVD related risk
factors in adults in SA are:
- 18% of the population smoke tobacco.
- 1 in 3 SA adults (33.7%) has hypertension, which can increase risk
of heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease or stroke.
- 31.3% adults in South Africa are obese.
- 40% of women in South Africa are obese.
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys between the ages of 2–14
years are overweight
- According to data from the World Health
Organisation, South Africa has the highest alcohol consumption rate in Africa
and one of the highest in the world. In 2014, alcohol consumption (as
measured in pure alcohol volumes) increased to 11 litres of pure alcohol consumed
per capita. The global average is 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year.
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