Healthy habits start in childhood – South Africans a high risk group because of obesity (fat)
This international day aims to promote a heart-healthy lifestyle and improve health globally by encouraging people to make lifestyle changes and be good to their hearts.
Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death in South Africa. Heart disease, in particular, features prominently among the conditions that contributed to a significant rise in deaths from non-communicable diseases in 2015, according to Statistics South Africa.
All of them agree that neither heart attacks nor death as the result of a heart attack are inevitable and can be avoided by understanding and managing the risk factors involved. It is possible for a person who suffers a heart attack to regain good health by getting the right treatment fast.
Professor Karen Sliwa, Director of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa and President-Elect of the World Heart Federation, said, “World Heart Day is our chance to shine a light on the world’s biggest killer and work together to improve heart health.”
Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, said, “Around the world one in 10 people dies prematurely from cardiovascular disease.”
President of the South African Heart Association, Professor Liesl Zuhlke – who is also Director of the Children’s Heart Disease Research Unit and a paediatric cardiologist, said, “We are urging people to ‘share the power’ this World Heart Day by sharing healthy heart tips with friends and family and inspire people everywhere to be healthier. Our focus is on families and communities as children can have heart disease too. A healthy heart starts in childhood.”
“We want every South African to understand the link between lifestyle and cardiovascular disease,” said Dr Shanil Naidoo, Medical Director of Boehringer Ingelheim. “Healthy lifestyle choices significantly decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes and have the further benefit of improving an individual’s quality of life.”
A heart attack occurs when an artery carrying oxygen to the heart becomes blocked. The likelihood of a blockage increases when arteries are narrowed by fatty cholesterol deposits or plaque – a condition referred to as coronary artery disease.
Risk factors for the condition include smoking, an unhealthy diet, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease. Many South Africans have uncontrolled or undiagnosed high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. A 2014 study showed that 78% of South Africans over 50 years had high blood pressure, with less than half of them being diagnosed and less than 7% having it under control. These individuals are placing themselves at an even higher risk of having heart attacks or strokes.
What does a heart attack feel like? Know the symptoms and act fast
- There is heavy pressure, tightness, unusual discomfort or crushing pain in the centre of the chest.
- This may spread to the shoulders, arms, neck or jaw.
- It may last more than 15 minutes and could stop or weaken and then return.
- This may be accompanied by sweating, nausea, faintness or shortness of breath.
- The pulse could be rapid or weak.
Important things to note
- Women may have different symptoms to men, with more pronounced nausea, dizziness and anxiety.
- A heart attack can be silent and produce no signs or symptoms.
- A sharp stabbing pain in the left side of the chest is usually not heart pain.
What to do if you experience or witness a heart attack
- If unexplained chest pain lasts for more than a few minutes, move quickly. Do not try and figure out the cause, rather call an ambulance and state that you are dealing with a suspected heart attack.
- If the ambulance is delayed, access private transport to get to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. On arrival, advise the staff that this is a suspected heart attack.
- If you have been trained and you are near a person who loses consciousness due to these symptoms, perform chest compressions at a rate of about 100 per minute.