Heart disease is on the rise

September is Heart Awareness Month – an entire month dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease, culminating in World Heart Day on 29 September.

According to a report released in 2014 by the World Heart Federation’s Global Cardiovascular Disease Atlas, more South Africans are dying from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases than ever beforeAlso according to this report, South Africa has the world’s highest rate of high blood pressure among people over the age of 50.

Mark Payne, CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA), says that the rising heart disease rates can be attributed to a South African predisposition towards unhealthy living. “South Africans are eating more animal products and processed fast foods high in sugar and salt, and leading more sedentary lives, resulting in increased heart disease and obesity.”

With September being National Heart Awareness Month, the ICPA offers the following advice on heart disease, warning signs of an impending heart attack and how to protect yourself and your loved ones from this disease which has reached epidemic proportions.

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What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery suddenly becomes blocked, stopping the flow of blood to the heart muscle and damaging it.

Most deaths from heart attacks are caused by ventricular fibrillation of the heart that occurs before the person can reach an emergency room. Those who reach the emergency room have excellent prospects; survival from a heart attack with modern treatment should exceed 90 percent. The one to 10 percent of heart attack victims who die later include those victims who suffer major damage to the heart muscle initially or who suffer additional damage at a later time.

Symptoms of a heart attack

“Many people die from heart attacks because they don’t receive medical treatment quickly enough,” says Payne. “If you learn to recognise the signs of a heart attack you can react quickly and possibly save your own, or someone else life.”

The warning signs can vary from person to person and they may not always be sudden or severe. Many heart attacks start slowly, unlike the dramatic examples seen on TV. A person experiencing a heart attack may not even be sure of what is happening, heart attack symptoms vary among individuals, and even a person who has had a previous heart attack may have different symptoms in a subsequent heart attack.

Although chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom of a heart attack, heart attack victims may experience a diversity of symptoms that include:

  • Chest discomfort such as pain, fullness, and/or squeezing sensation of the chest
  • Jaw pain, toothache, headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • General discomfort in the upper abdomen
  • Sweating
  • Heartburn and/or indigestion
  • Arm pain (more commonly the left arm, but may be either arm)
  • Upper back pain
  • General feeling of being unwell
  • No symptoms – approximately one quarter of all heart attacks are silent, without chest pain or new symptoms. These silent heart attacks are especially common among patients with diabetes

What to do if you experience any of these symptoms

If you, or someone else, is having a heart attack here are vital tips on what to do:

  • Take action – every minute counts
  • Stop all physical activity and sit or lie down
  • Tell someone near you what is happening
  • Make immediate plans to get to your nearest doctors rooms or hospital emergency room as quickly as possible. Don’t try to drive yourself
  • When you arrive, tell them that you think you are having a heart attack so that you get immediate medical attention

The ICPA cautions that even though the symptoms of a heart attack can be mild, it is important to remember that heart attacks producing no symptoms or only mild symptoms can be just as serious as heart attacks that cause severe chest pain.

“Too often people attribute heart attack symptoms to anxiety, indigestion, fatigue or stress, and therefore delay looking for quick medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment saves lives.”

Be proactive and prevent heart disease

The ICPA adds that you can take other proactive measures to keep your heart healthy.  Things like eating a healthy plant-based diet low in animals products, exercising regularly and being aware of the risk factors such as smoking, drinking, taking drugs, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and stress will all go a long way towards protecting your heart health.

“It is important to monitor your cholesterol and your blood pressure frequently, as these are contributing factors that lead to heart damage and there are usually no symptoms of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Visit your doctor, clinic or local independent pharmacy and ask to have your blood pressure checked and have a cholesterol test.”

“For smokers, quitting is absolutely the best move you can make to protect your heart. Ask your pharmacist about products that are available to help you quit smoking. Over-the-counter products are also available to assist with weight loss and stress management – ask your independent pharmacist for their assistance on your journey to heart health,” concludes Payne.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.