Heart Health

18 July 2008

Pilgrim: why the heart attack?

Whereas a heart attack in a young, seemingly healthy man like Mark Pilgrim (age 40) may seem unlikely, they are in fact quite common, says a cardiologist. to you.

Local radio and television personality Mark Pilgrim has been discharged from hospital following a heart attack on Tuesday.

Pilgrim (40) was admitted to hospital on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack while in his doctor's office. According to Highveld radio station manager Ravi Naidoo, Pilgrim was being treated for an obstructed coronary artery. He was released from hospital on Friday afternoon.

Yet the question most people are asking is how a seemingly fit, healthy man in his 40s could suffer a heart attack? Well according to Dr Anthony Yip (cardiologist at Life Fourways Hospital), it's actually not that uncommon.

"There are a number of reasons why Mark could have suffered a heart attack even if he was fit and healthy – and top of the list is genetics. If he had a family history of heart disease in his family his risk factor for having a heart attack would have been high," he said.

Age not always a factor
Yip added that coronary artery disease (CAD) is primarily caused by atherosclerosis which is a combination of a number of factors. Top of the list is genetics; then high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking. These are considered the Big Five risk factors of heart attacks.

"Mark is not the youngest heart attack case I've heard of; in fact I have treated a man of 29 for CAD and even carried out a bypass on a 34 year old kick boxer who was extremely fit but happened to have a strong family history of heart disease," said Yip.

Yet many still believe that heart attacks are the curse of the old man – and although it's true that older men are more predisposed to heart problems, Yip pointed out that no-one is totally immune to heart attacks.

"In men the age group to start watching is between 40 and 60 as these are most likely to start presenting with heart attacks. In fact, more men are affected in the early years than women, which we believe is because oestrogen may somehow protect the heart."

'Take all types of pain seriously'
According to Yip, if you're a man who falls into any of the Big Five risk factor groups and are between the ages of 40 and 60, you should treat any type of pain seriously, as not all heart attacks present like they do in the movies.

"Although a typical heart attack starts with a crushing central chest pain which spreads down the left arm and to the jaw with sweating and palpitations, not everyone experiences the 'typical' heart attack, said Yip.

He added that some people suffer abdominal pain, or sharp stabbing pains or even merely shortness of breath. Regardless though, he urged anyone with a predisposition to heart disease to take any and all forms of pain seriously.

Pilgrim is best known as a radio DJ for Highveld Stereo and KFM as well as his time as the TV show, Big Brother's host. He is also a cancer survivor who overcame testicular cancer, which spread to his lungs and kidneys at the age of 18. This led him to become a patron of the Cancer Foundation of SA (Cansa) and a friend of the Reach for a Dream Foundation.

Source: Dr Anthony Yip, Cardiologist, Life Fourways Hospital; Sapa

(Amy Henderson,, July 2008)

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