How to keep your heart pumping, reduce chances of heart disease

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With 29 September being World Heart Day, ER24 is urging people to live a healthier lifestyle to reduce their chances of developing heart disease. Heart disease refers to any disease or condition that affects the heart and limits its ability to function properly. Speaking about how the heart functions and the possible conditions that people could develop, Dr Vernon Wessels, from ER24, said, “The heart functions as a pump that circulates the blood through the lungs to receive oxygen and then, on return to the heart, this oxygen enriched blood is pumped to the rest of the body. The heart muscle itself receives blood through the coronary arteries. “One condition that most people are aware of is narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen rich blood. Should this narrowing completely close off, the patient will suffer a heart attack (myocardial infarction). A patient suffering a heart attack often goes into cardiac arrest which requires Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) to be performed to keep the person alive until hospital treatment can be provided. There are however, a multitude of other diseases that affect the heart. Most of them will eventually lead to the heart becoming ineffective and the patient suffering heart failure.” He added that some of these conditions are present at birth and may be due to an abnormality in the development of the fetus however, the majority of conditions that eventually lead to heart failure are often unnoticeable to the patient. “Many of these conditions can be prevented or limited. An example of this is hypertension which is a condition where the blood pressure is constantly raised above the normal limits. Most people will not have any symptoms until such time as the organs that are exposed to this high pressure start to fail. The heart is one such organ and continuous pumping against a high pressure gradient causes the heart muscle to thicken and eventually start to fail. “Other conditions that can cause heart disease are infections that affect the internal lining of the heart (endocarditis) and often the valves, for example with rheumatic fever, as well as the outer lining of the heart (pericarditis),” said Dr Wessels.   Impact of heart disease According to The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), every minute, 33 people around the world die from heart disease. Nuraan Cader, the Public Relations and Communications Officer of the HSFSA, said, “Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), are estimated to account for 43% of total adult deaths in South Africa. “Every hour, at least five South Africans have a heart attack. The reasons for this? First of all, many people are unaware of their risk for heart disease. 50% of South Africans do not know that they have high blood pressure, which is the main cause for strokes in South Africa. One in two people do not know that they have diabetes. Often, risk factors that have been present are only discovered once the individual has a heart attack or a stroke,” she said.   What signs to look out for Dr Wessels said that depending on the underlying cause, heart disease will often present with tiredness, shortness of breath (especially when climbing stairs or participating in other exercise), and chest pain (which may be absent). There are also other signs that develop with heart failure that may not be attributed to the heart by the patient. These include swelling of the ankles and tenderness of the liver due to congestion.   Risk factors Bad lifestyle habits like smoking, obesity, lack in exercise and excessive salt intake all contribute to heart disease. “Hypertension is often not identified by the person as being present until their blood pressure is taken. Therefore, it is advised that people have regular medical check-ups, especially if they also have some of the other risk factors. Hypertension is treatable but if left unmanaged, can cause severe debilitating complications, amongst others heart failure and stroke. Healthy lifestyle is critical. Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake. Maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise (even regular walking is better than nothing). Eat healthy food and avoid excessive salt intake. Moderate exercise is good however, excessive exercise in someone who is not used to it can overload the heart and potentially lead to a heart attack or heart failure. If unsure, seek advice from a healthcare professional,” said Dr Wessels.   Get tested The HSFSA has partnered with Dis-Chem Pharmacies. The public can get screened for free at Dis-Chem until 8 October to find out their blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight status.

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