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Heart Health

08 February 2007

SA facing a heart disease crisis

Heart disease lacks the emphasis it deserves, with the media giving more attention to other diseases in this country – a situation South Africa can't afford, experts say.

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Heart disease lacks the emphasis it deserves, with the media giving more attention to other diseases in this country – a situation South Africa can't afford.

This view was expressed by Prof Krisela Steyn, from the Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town, at a media conference on Thursday.

Steyn's words were echoed by Robert de Souza, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa: "Most South Africans are unaware of the risk factors associated with heart disease, as other diseases such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and cancer generate the greatest media attention."

While communicable diseases such as HIV/Aids and tubercolosis deserve to be at the top of the health agenda, it's important to note that Africa has a double burden of disease, according to Janet Voute, CEO of the World Heart Federation.

As there is a strong relationship, communicable diseases and chronic diseases of lifestyle (such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer) need to be addressed at the same time. This would not only save costs, but also thousands of lives.

Heart disease affects around one in three men and one in four women in South Africa. It is hot on the heels of HIV/Aids as the leading cause of death in this country. And it is estimated that, by 2015, heart disease will reach epidemic proportions. This will no doubt put further strain on the country's limited health resources.

A preventable disease
The irony is that heart disease is easily preventable.

"We need people to have their cholesterol levels checked, but even more importantly, we need people to take a good, hard look at their lifestyle and see if they could 'do it better' before it's too late," says Shân Biesman-Simons, Director of Nutrition and Education of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Adults should have their cholesterol levels tested once every five years. Those with a family history need to get tested more regularly. A healthy diet, stopping cigarette smoking and doing regular exercise are also important steps.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation further recommends that South Africans not only decrease their amount of total fat intake, but also look at the type of fat they consume.

Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels. One should aim to reduce this type of fat, which is typically found in meats, butter, eggs and cheese. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats tend to lower blood cholesterol levels and should make up more of the fat intake. These are found in vegetable oils and fats. – (Carine van Rooyen, Health24)

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