Heart Health

04 September 2006

Simple steps save your heart

An average of 95 South Africans die every day from heart disease, one person every eight minutes. Yet the number one killer in the country is preventable.

One in three South African men and one in four women will suffer from heart disease before they reach the age of 60, according to the South African Heart Foundation. An average of 95 South Africans die every day from heart disease, one person every eight minutes, making heart disease the number one killer in the country.

According to the Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle department at the Medical Research Council of South Africa, heart disease deaths account for almost 20% of all deaths in the country.

In a bid to reduce the prevalence of heart disease, Medicross, Netcare, and pharmaceutical company Novartis, will be joining forces during Cardiac Week from 16-20 September to educate the public about simple ways to prevent heart disease.

Free testing for preventable disease
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among all population groups," says Medicross chief executive officer Dr Elbert Steyn. "The real tragedy, though, is that if it is detected early enough, cardiovascular disease can be controlled. All it takes is a simple blood test to determine one's cholesterol level."

Medicross will focus primarily on providing free cholesterol and blood pressure testing - two of the greatest contributing factors to heart disease, according to Steyn.

"In addition, free blood glucose testing will be offered using the revolutionary pain free TheraSense system. Medical professionals will be on hand to offer advice to help prevent the onset of a largely preventable disease."

Blood cholesterol testing simple
A blood cholesterol level of 5mmol/l or greater indicates a higher risk of developing heart disease, according to Steyn.

"Detection is so simple," says Steyn, "An initial blood test to determine one's cholesterol and blood glucose can be done from a single drop of blood taken from a fingertip, but these tests are often ignored or overlooked."

There are two kinds of cholesterol - a 'healthy' cholesterol (HDL) and a 'lethal' cholesterol (LDL). High doses of HDL can reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering your LDL level, while a high LDL level increases your risk of heart disease.

Looking for risk factors
Another test for heart disease looks for other 'tell-tale' risk factors: a family history of heart disease, smoking, carrying excess weight, little or no exercise regime, stress, over-indulgence in eating fatty foods and excessive intake of alcohol.

Smoking: Smoking is the biggest cause of heart disease, doubling the risk of a heart attack. For heavy smokers that risk doubles again. Nicotine narrows the blood vessels and puts added strain on the heart.

Lack of exercise: Regular aerobic exercise improves the function of the heart, lungs and other muscles. It also helps to reduce and maintain ideal body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Inactive people, who do not exercise, have twice the risk of suffering a heart attack, than those who exercise regularly.

High cholesterol: High levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream can lead to a build-up of cholesterol in the walls of the arteries, reducing the blood supply to the heart, thereby increasing the risk of a heart attack. Blood cholesterol is influenced by the amount of fat, especially saturated fat in our diet.

High blood pressure: Hypertension, the medical name for high blood pressure, is known as the silent killer as it rarely gives any warning signs.

High blood pressure increases the workload of the heart causing the heart muscle to thicken and the arteries to stretch. Being overweight and consuming excessive salt can contribute to hypertension.

Two out of three people with high blood pressure are unaware that anything is wrong with them - until it is too late.

Don't wait until it is too late

"The road to curbing cholesterol and high blood pressure is a simple one - and begins with a single step," says Steyn. "Never underestimate your heart's potential to explode. Take that first step - go to your nearest Medicross Centre or participating Netcare hospital or clinic and find out your cholesterol level. It's free - and it could just save your life!" – (Health24)

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