Spare a thought for your heart

Millions of people get dressed each day to go to work, checking the state of their hair and the way they look as they leave home. But sparing a thought for the state of your heart and arteries is much more important – and could save your life, says The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA).

September is Heart Awareness Month and according to statistics, an estimated 210 South Africans die each day from heart attacks and the numbers are increasing.

“Heart disease and stroke are the second biggest killers in South Africa after HIV/Aids,” said Professor Pamela Naidoo, the new chief executive officer of the HSFSA. “Our population is becoming less active and our dietary habits are becoming increasingly unhealthy. Conditions that lead to heart disease like obesity, diabetes and hypertension are all on the rise.”

She added that the impact of heart disease is set to become worse. “But up to 80 percent of heart disease is preventable,” said Professor Naidoo, who was previously the research director of the Psychosocial Well-Being and Behavioural Interventions programme at the SA Human Sciences Research Council and extraordinary professor in the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences at the University of the Western Cape.

Know your risk factors empowers you

Professor Naidoo said knowing the risk factors for heart disease can inform people how they should act. The most important factors are blood pressure, blood glucose, blood cholesterol and obesity.

This month the HSFSA will be offering free tests for these risk factors at all participating Dischem pharmacies countrywide.

“The tests are quick to do and are minimally invasive, yet have the potential to save lives and prevent so much pain, discomfort and financial strain,” said Professor Naidoo.

Busting myths around heart disease

There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding heart disease. One of these is that people with healthy cholesterol levels will never have a heart attack.

Other factors also contribute to the risk profile, Professor Naidoo said. High blood pressure and a history of smoking could increase the risk for a heart attack.

Another misconception about heart attacks is that they all feel the same but not everyone suffering from a heart attack feels sharp pain and numbness in one arm. Other symptoms are difficulty breathing, sweating, a cold or clammy feeling and heart palpitations and exhaustion. Women often have different symptoms when having a heart attack.

It is crucial that people are reminded of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, getting enough exercise, eating a balanced diet and not smoking. “There is still so much ignorance around the various risk factors. For instance, someone with high blood pressure could feel perfectly fine but be at great risk of a heart attack,” said Gabriel Eksteen, registered dietitian and health promotion officer at the HSFSA.

High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is often called the silent killer because there are no warning signs when levels are high, causing damage to arteries, putting the heart under strain and paving the way for a heart attack or stroke.

Having your blood pressure measured is the only way to know if it’s too high. Adults from the age of 20 should start having their blood pressure checked at least once a year, advised the HSFSA.

Smart little hearts

Many South Africans are also not aware of the fact that children too are affected by heart disease. This is why the foundation during Heart Awareness Month this year will also raise awareness and funds via the Smart Little Hearts campaign.

The HSFSA aims to improve these children’s lives by raising funds to upgrade health facilities where children are treated. Seven public paediatric cardiac care units in South Africa have been identified as being in desperate need of attention.

The HSFSA is hoping that more people will sit up and take note of the health of their – and their children’s hearts – this September. “Getting free tests could be the most important thing many South Africans do in the next 30 days,” said Professor Naidoo.

Want to help?

SMS the word “Smart” to 38502 to donate R10 to improve the lives of children in paediatric cardiac care units in South Africa as part of the Smart Little Hearts campaign.

To find your nearest Dischem Pharmacy call 0861 HEART (43278) or visit for more information or visit and SAHeartStroke