September is National Heart Aware- ness Month. It serves as a reminder that heart disease can affect anyone and that heart attacks and strokes are major killers in all parts of the world. However, in many cases they can be prevented if we change unhealthy lifestyle choices to healthy ones.
Heart disease and stroke are the number one killers in South Africa. One in three men and one in four women will suffer from cardiovascular disease (affecting the heart and the rest of the blood vessels) before they are 60 years old.
It is reported that nearly two-thirds of people who have a heart attack die before they can reach medical care. Even when stroke patients have access to modern, advanced treatment, 60 per cent die or are left disabled.
Most people think they would know if they were having a heart attack or a stroke, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes the signs are not obvious or they are similar to those of other conditions.
Heart attacks and strokes are generally caused by a blockage that prevents blood from flowing to the heart or the brain. The most common reason for this is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels that supply the heart or the brain. This makes the blood vessels narrower and less flexible. It is sometimes called hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis.
The blood vessels are then more likely to get blocked by blood clots. When that happens, the blood vessels cannot supply blood to the heart and brain, which become damaged.
Research shows that a number of unhealthy lifestyle choices make the chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke more likely. These are called risk factors.
The three most important lifestyle habits that put you at risk are:
• smoking and other tobacco use
• unhealthy diet
• lack of physical activity.
These three lifestyle choices can lead to three serious physical problems:
• high blood pressure (hypertension)
• high blood sugar (diabetes)
• high blood fats (hyperlipidaemia). These are the most important risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. As these risk factors are “silent”, which means they happen in your body without any signs or symptoms, you need to have regular blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol level tests.
To ensure your good health, make healthy lifestyle choices – eat healthy food, lose weight if you are overweight, exercise for 30 minutes every day for five days a week, and cut out tobacco products.
For more information, call the Department of Health on: 012 395 8086/8080, or visit www.doh.gov.za