Jul 5, 2021 | Health

Matters of the Heart

Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa
While heart disease can be fatal, it can also be managed by adopting a healthy lifestyle – the earlier, the better. And there are some actions you can take that can decrease your risk of having a heart attack in the future.

Is cardiovascular disease treatable?

We’re always super quick to fix that wonky appliance when it goes on the blink. Maintaining our everyday essentials makes life easier, right? So can taking care of your heart – except that it’s not as easy to see when this hard-working organ is taking strain.

Coronary conditions affect the structures and the functioning of the heart, and include strokes, diabetes, heart attacks/failures and hypertension.
The World Health Organization’s fact sheet of 2020 reports that cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of premature deaths and disabilities, taking the lives of 17.9 million people a year – that’s 31% of global deaths.

In the South African context, cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death after HIV/AIDS: 225 people succumb to CVDs every day, according to Heart & Stroke Foundation South Africa (2019). As alarming as that sounds, these are statistics you can’t afford to disregard.
Most of these heart conditions are not curable, but the good news is that they are manageable by leading a healthy lifestyle, eating healthily, adhering to prescribed medication, seeking rehabilitation, and getting support. Treatment options differ from person to person, depending on the type of heart disease and its severity.

What causes heart disease?

Heart disease is an umbrella term for a wide range of cardiovascular conditions, including hardening or narrowing of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis), clots formed within the blood vessels (thrombosis), weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), or congenital defects that are present from birth.

How does Covid-19 impact CVD patients?

When it comes to Covid-19, those with pre-existing cardiac conditions are considered high risk. Their viral symptoms are usually more severe than in those without CVD and there are higher numbers of fatalities associated with cardiovascular patients who have been infected with Covid-19. As they have an already fragile immune system, the outcomes are not good.

Paying attention to a few key symptoms could save your life.

What are the signs?

Paying attention to a few key symptoms could save your life. Some important signs to monitor are:


abnormal rhythm, sound, shape, and size (usually seen/diagnosed by doctors) of the heart

irregular heartbeat
chest pains or pressure
breathing difficulties
nausea, indigestion and heartburn with
abdominal pains (together with other symptoms)
distended or swollen legs and feet (common with heart failure), and
raised blood pressure.

Preventative measures

To keep your heart healthy, ideally, you should:

control your blood pressure
be active and aim to maintain an optimal weight
decrease alcohol intake
quit smoking
eat healthily
take note of any signs and act on them immediately
manage stress
manage diabetes
keep your cholesterol and triglyceride (fat) levels under control
get enough sleep, and

undergo medical check-ups at least once a year,
but if you fall under the ‘high risk’ criteria (see below),
these should be more frequent, depending on your
risk profile.

Are you at risk?

You’re likely be at high risk for heart disease if you:

have a family history of disorders/diseases of thecirculatory system
are on treatment for other existing chronic illnesses, with more attention to cancer, renal diseases, respiratory diseases, HIV/AIDS, or disorders of the nervous system
are overweight or obese
are over the age of 50
are male
are physically inactive, or

you smoke and consume excessive alcohol.

Through healthier life choices and habits, 80% of heart disease could be prevented.

You are what you eat…

Through healthier life choices and habits, 80% of heart disease could be prevented. One of these is following a healthy diet. Here are some pointers:

Foods to include:

a variety of fruits and vegetables
fibre-rich whole grains
low-fat dairy products
healthy fats, such as those found in canola, olive and sunflower oils, nuts and seeds, avocados, and
fatty fish (such as sardines, pilchards and tuna) that contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce blood pressure and the risk of stroke.

Foods to avoid:

any item with added sodium and salt
foods and drinks with added sugars – especially sugary drinks, as they provide empty calories and contribute to weight gain. They also increase triglycerides, a type of lipid in the blood.
unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats, which can raise cholesterol levels – you’ll find these in fatty or processed meats, and fast and deep-fried foods.
Remember to look out for the Heart Mark on your next store visit. The Heart Mark programme was established by the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa to help consumers identify healthier foods in an effort to raise awareness about lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. www.heartfoundation.co.za