Cardiovascular (CVD) disease is a term used to describe diseases and conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. CVD is the leading cause of death after HIV/AIDS in South Africa with an estimated 210 South Africans dying from the disease every day! Tragically, the Heart & Stroke Foundation estimates that up to 80% of these deaths can be prevented if people at risk adopt a healthier lifestyle. Find out how you can keep your heart healthy and safe with these insights from Bloom and Health4Me medical insurance.
What is heart awareness month?
September is heart awareness month in South Africa and it is World Heart Day on the 29th of September each year. The Heart & Stroke Foundation, along with their members and advocates, use this month to raise awareness about heart disease in an effort to educate South Africans about the risk factors associated with the disease and encourage behaviour changes that will promote healthy living.
How do you check your heart health?
There are a number of ways to check the health of your heart. Two of the most important ways is by checking your heart rate and your blood pressure.
- Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. A doctor or medical professional can check your heart and rhythm by finding your pulse. You can also check your own heart rate by finding your pulse at your wrist, side of your neck or inside of your elbow. Each pulse matches with a heartbeat. While this does vary from person to person, your resting heart rate is usually between 60-100 beats per minute.
- Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps the blood through your body. Your blood pressure is measured using two different readings. The first is called systolic pressure (that’s the top number in the reading). The second is the diastolic reading (the bottom number in the reading). Normal blood pressure for an adult is less than 120 over less than 80. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a blood pressure reading of 130/80 or higher.
It is also advisable to check your weight, cholesterol and blood sugar levels when it comes to heart health assessments. Let’s discuss these risk factors in more detail so that you understand why.
What are the main risk factors for heart disease?
1. Uncontrollable risk factors. These relate to those factors or circumstances that cannot be changed; and could include some of the following:
- Age. People over the age of 65 years are at a greater risk of developing heart-related diseases or conditions
- Gender. Men are historically more at risk than women
- Hereditary traits. Some people inherit certain congenital heart conditions or defects
2. Controllable risk factors. These relate to factors that can be managed or prevented by making certain lifestyle changes. If you suffer from uncontrollable risk factors, then it’s even more important to make sure you manage the following risks:
- Smoking. The harmful chemicals found in tobacco products cause an increase in one’s blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, nicotine increases cholesterol deposits in the arteries.
- Cholesterol. High blood cholesterol will increase your risk of heart disease. High LDL (or bad) cholesterol can form hard deposits in the arteries – a condition known as atherosclerosis. Cholesterol can be controlled by watching your diet.
- Blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause hardening or thickening of the arteries, resulting in atherosclerosis, which puts you at risk for having a heart attack.
- Weight. People suffering from obesity or a high body mass index (BMI) are at a greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease. This is because overweight people tend to suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Manage your weight with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
3. Other factors. There are a number of other factors that can contribute to cardiovascular disease. Some of these include:
- Stress. Studies have found a correlation between heart disease/heart attacks and stress. People experiencing severe stress or anxiety tend to adopt unhealthy habits, like having poor sleep quality or adopting an unhealthy eating plan.
- Diabetes. This is a treatable medical condition and people living with diabetes are often prone to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels, all of which increase one’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Types of cardiovascular disease
There are many types of diseases relating to the heart. Here are some of the more common conditions and terms:
1. Heart failure
This is the body’s reduced ability to pump blood throughout the body and is a result of damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack, viral infection, heart disease or high blood pressure. Symptoms of heart failure include swelling of the ankles or legs, fatigue, dry cough or shortness of breath.
2. Heart attack
A heart attack is a life-threatening medical emergency. This occurs when the heart becomes starved of oxygen because it is cut-off from the body’s blood supply. A heart attack is the result of narrowed arteries or from a blood clot that blocks the blood flow to the heart. Typical symptoms of a heart attack could include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling extreme anxiety
- Pain in your shoulders, arms or neck
- Abdominal pain
- Tightness in the chest area
3. Congenital heart disease
This means that a person is born with a certain heart defect, which affects the functioning of their heart. The severity of the disease varies from person to person.
4. Cardiac arrest
If a person is in cardiac arrest it means that their heart has stopped beating. It usually occurs when a person has suffered a heart attack. Death can occur within ten minutes. It is possible to revive a person by performing CPR to restore the heart rhythm.
This is a condition characterised by the hardening of the arteries. It occurs when there is a build-up of fatty material which causes the arteries to narrow. It is the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
This refers to an abnormal heartbeat, which can be too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia) or irregular. Symptoms associated with arrhythmia include palpitations, feeling faint, light-headed or dizzy. Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm and can lead to clotting which in turn can result in a stroke.
This condition is a symptom of coronary artery disease and is characterised by severe chest pain because there is an insufficient amount of blood flow to the heart. The pain, which is sharp and stabbing, is typically felt in the chest area and should not be confused with a heart attack.
For more information about heart disease and conditions and what you can do, visit the South African Heart & Stroke Foundation.
Heart health assessments with Health4Me
All Health4Me members on the Health4Me Bronze, Health4Me Silver or Health4Me Gold plans are entitled to one health assessment per year conducted at a pharmacy clinic. The assessment includes a blood pressure check, cholesterol and blood sugar finger prick test; and a weight measurement test. All these check-ups provide information about your heart health. We strongly advise that you have the tests in order to find out if you need to make any lifestyle adjustments to decrease your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to ensure heart health. Watch your diet, commit to regular exercise activities, make smart lifestyle choices and get your annual check-ups. Get health insurance cover with Bloom.
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