Aug 2021 2nd edition

Look after your heart

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

While more South Africans die from heart disease than all cancers combined, ensuring a healthy lifestyle, avoiding high-risk activities and reducing stress can prevent it.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, heart disease is the second leading cause of death in South Africa after HIV and AIDS, and is responsible for almost one in six deaths in the country.

In South Africa, every day 225 people die from heart disease, five have a heart attack and 10 have a stroke. Of these, 10 people are likely to die.

Globally, 13% of deaths are caused by heart disease.

The human heart beats about three billion times, from birth to the age of 90. Many things can go wrong the way, including with the heart muscle itself, the valves that help blood flow, the heart rhythm and the blood vessels that transport the blood.

According to the Mpumalanga Department of Health, heart disease includes various heart conditions or problems, such as angina, heart failure and an abnormal heart rhythm.

Heart attack symptoms

Common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Heavy pressure, tightness, crushing pain or unusual discomfort in the chest.
  • An overwhelming sense of anxiety.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Feeling lightheaded and dizzy.
  • Abdominal pain, feeling sick or vomiting.
  • Pain spreading to your shoulders, arms, neck or jaw.
  • Sweating.

Signs of a stroke

Sometimes a stroke is not painful, meaning people ignore the signs or symptoms and do not seek medical attention. However, an acute stroke or transient ischaemic attack is a medical emergency.

The common signs of a stroke include:

  • ]Sudden weakness or numbness in face, arm or leg (most often on one side of the body).
  • Sudden loss of speech, difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden confusion.
  • Sudden loss of vision.
  • Sudden, severe, unusual headache.
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance and trouble walking.

While there are various causes of heart disease, including high blood pressure, in South Africa nearly half of the female population and over a quarter of the male population are physically inactive.

Most South Africans also eat a diet high in processed meat, salt, sugars, deep-fried foods and refined starches, and don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. As a result, about 68% of women and 31% of men are overweight or obese.

For information about how to better care for your heart, visit your local clinic or go to

Information courtesy of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa and the Mpumalanga Department of Health. 

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