This coming 29th September 2021 South Africa and the world will commemorate World Heart Day, according to Prof Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart & Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA), every day 255 South Africans die of cardiovascular disease but there’s good news because by making heart-healthy choices, 80% of all heart diseases can be prevented.
Things to Know and Learn during this important Q and A.
- What are the common causes of cardiovascular disease in South Africa and how would people know if they have it?
Ans: It is firstly important to understand that there are different kinds of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). While there are some CVD’s such as rheumatic heart disease that have specific causes such as infection, most CVDs develop due to gradual damage to the heart and blood vessels. This damage often occurs due to a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors an individual has, the more likely they are to develop CVD. Risk factors are either controllable or uncontrollable. Controllable risk factors include air pollution, stress, smoking, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, being overweight or obese, excessive alcohol intake, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Uncontrollable risk factors include age,
sex (females are at an increased risk after menopause), genetics, family history, and poverty.
With regards to knowing whether you have CVD or not, it is important to know your
numbers of the controllable risk factors mentioned – Blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, as well as weight status, and waist circumference. These risk factors if not managed within their normal ranges can result in CVD. Furthermore, when it comes to CVD events such as heart attacks, not all people experience the same symptoms. Sudden chest pain is the most common symptom but may either not occur or could be the symptom of another medical condition. Ambulance staff or doctors conduct tests to conclude whether the chest pain is caused by a heart attack. Other symptoms one could look out for include shortness of breath, feeling lightheaded and dizzy, abdominal pain, feeling sick or vomiting, pain spreading to the shoulders, arms, neck, or jaw, and sweating.
- Can heart diseases be permanently cured or is it just a matter of taking prescriptions?
Ans: Heart diseases fall under what is referred to as non-communicable diseases. These diseases tend to be of long duration and often require lifelong management. This management includes abiding by the medications prescribed by the doctor in the correct dosages and at the correct time. In addition, lifestyle interventions such as good nutrition, physical activity (as guided by the doctor), no smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation are vital in the management of heart diseases.
- How often would you recommend for people to go for a check-up to see if their heart is well?
Ans: Individuals with existing heart conditions will be advised and should abide by their doctor’s recommendations on how often to get a check-up. In the general population and especially individuals who have heart disease as family history, it is advised to undergo health risk assessments at least once a year, or more if recommended by a doctor, in order to know their numbers of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels as well as weight status and waist circumference. If these are not within their respective normal ranges, they can become risk factors for heart disease.
- With the ongoing spread of Covid, how do you then differentiate the symptoms of heart failure/stroke to the one of covid?
Ans: When it comes to heart disease, it is important that you are aware of any risk factors you may have and to ensure that they are being managed in order to prevent them from developing into heart diseases. Furthermore, though symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath may overlap between COVID-19 and heart disease, some common symptoms of COVID-19 that do not occur with heart disease include coughing and new-onset loss of taste or smell.
In order to detect whether someone is in fact having a stroke, the acronym FAST can quickly be implemented – F refers to Face where you ask the individual under examination to smile and assess to see if one side is drooping. A refers to arms where you ask the individual to raise both arms and you assess to see if one side is weaker. S refers to a speech where you ask the individual to speak and you assess if their speech is slurry or they are having difficulty speaking. T refers to Time where you note the time and contact the ambulance because, in the case of a stroke, lost time could mean lost brain.
- Heart failure and Covid share most of the symptoms, so how do you quickly detect one from the other?
Ans: Chest pain that is associated with heart failure often spreads to the shoulders, arms, neck, or jaw. However, it is only the ambulance or doctors that can conduct tests in order to determine whether the chest pain is being caused by heart failure or not.
- Is Heart failure hereditary?
Ans: Heart failure can be hereditary. Rare forms of inherited heart conditions, high cholesterol, or blood pressure can increase the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, if your father or brother suffered heart disease before the age of 55, or your mother or sister before 65 years, then you could also be at increased risk.
- What are simple and affordable changes that people can make in order to ensure they are taking care of their hearts?
Ans: We know that nutrition has a huge role to play in ensuring that we maintain good heart health and one of the ways in achieving this is by choosing healthy proteins. These include foods like eggs, tinned fish, beans, lentils, chickpeas, chicken, and lean meat instead of processed and fatty meats. Tinned fish, particularly oily fish, is one of the most heart-healthy foods you can eat because they are high in essential omega 3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce blood pressure and the risk of stroke. Tinned fish is also a lean source of protein – unlike some cuts of meat, it’s not high in artery-clogging saturated fat. Replacing high-fat meats with more heart-healthy proteins such as fish helps to prevent heart disease.
Furthermore, tinned fish is a more affordable option than red and other white meat as a protein source, and this way, allows household budgets to provide a healthy diet for
developing children, even in remote or rural areas where there might be no electricity.
Lucky Star is the leading brand in providing protein-enriched heart-healthy meals through tinned fish. Lucky Star is the only tinned fish that carries the Heart Mark endorsement logo. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa recommends that such tinned fatty fish should be eaten twice a week to reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.