World Heart Day: learning to survive heart attacks
World Heart Day, which happens every year on 29 September, will see iconic landmarks turned red in honour of the occasion with Table Mountain and the Wheel at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town being lit up on Friday night.
The day was created and led by the World Heart Federation (WHF) as an event designed to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the world’s biggest killer.
It is seen as a time to promote a heart-healthy lifestyle and improve health globally by encouraging people to make lifestyle changes and be good to their hearts.
The event has the backing of several high-level experts, who are keen to lend their voices to the cause.
Professor Karen Sliwa, Director of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa and President-Elect of the World Heart Federation, said “World Heart Day is our chance to shine a light on the world’s biggest killer and work together to improve heart health. This includes highlighting the need for better care of patients with rheumatic heart disease and cardiac disease associated with pregnancy.”
Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, said “Around the world 1 in 10 people die prematurely from cardiovascular disease but the power to change this is in our hands. Making small lifestyle changes such as eating more fruit and vegetables, keeping active, reducing alcohol consumption and stopping smoking can save lives.”
President of the South African Heart Association, Professor Liesl Zuhlke – who is also Director of the Children’s Heart Disease Research Unit and a paediatric cardiologist, said “We are urging people to ‘share the power’ this World Heart Day by sharing healthy heart tips with friends and family and inspire people everywhere to be healthier. Our focus is on families and communities as children can have heart disease too and a healthy heart starts in childhood.”
Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death in South Africa. Heart disease, in particular, features prominently among the conditions that contributed to a significant rise in deaths from non-communicable diseases in 2015, according to Statistics South Africa.
All of them agree that neither heart attacks nor death as the result of a heart attack are inevitable and can be avoided by understanding and managing the risk factors involved.
It is possible for a person who suffers a heart attack to regain good health by getting the right treatment fast.
Medical organisations are using World Heart Day to raise awareness and highlight the seriousness of heart disease for all sections of South Africa’s population and help people take heart health into their own hands.
“We want every South African to understand the link between lifestyle and cardiovascular disease,” said Dr Shanil Naidoo, Medical Director of Boehringer Ingelheim. “Healthy lifestyle choices significantly decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes and have the further benefit of improving an individual’s quality of life.”
Spot the risks and neutralise them
A heart attack occurs when an artery carrying oxygen to the heart becomes blocked. The likelihood of a blockage increases when arteries are narrowed by fatty cholesterol deposits or plaque – a condition referred to as coronary artery disease.
Risk factors for the condition include smoking, an unhealthy diet, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease.
Giving up smoking, modifying poor diets and increased exercise are all good solutions along with the critical management of diabetes, blood pressure and high cholesterol under medical supervision.
“Many South Africans have uncontrolled or undiagnosed hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol,” said Dr Naidoo.
A 2014 study showed that 78% of South Africans over 50 years had hypertension, with less than half of them being diagnosed and less than 7% having it under control.
“These individuals are placing themselves at an even higher risk of having heart attacks or strokes,” cautioned Naidoo.
“While we cannot change our genetics or age, it is important to understand that we need to be disciplined about lifestyles choices which include regular medical check-ups.”
SOME FACT BOXES:
Recognising a heart attack:
Speed of reaction is absolutely critical to surviving a heart attack and regaining good health. In some cases, a heart attack causes virtually instant death. But in many cases survival and recovery are perfectly possible – provided you know what to do and get to work instantly.
What does a heart attack feel like?
- There is heavy pressure, tightness, unusual discomfort or crushing pain in the centre of the chest.
- This may spread to the shoulders, arms, neck or jaw.
- It may last more than 15 minutes and could stop or weaken and then return.
- This may be accompanied by sweating, nausea, faintness or shortness of breath.
- The pulse could be rapid or weak.
Important things to note
- Women may have different symptoms to men, with more pronounced nausea, dizziness and anxiety.
- A heart attack can be silent and produce no signs or symptoms.
- A sharp stabbing pain in the left side of the chest is usually not heart pain.
What to do if you experience or witness a heart attack
- If unexplained chest pain lasts for more than a few minutes, move quickly. Do not try and figure out the cause, rather call an ambulance and state that you are dealing with a suspected heart attack.
- If the ambulance is delayed, access private transport to get to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. On arrival, advise the staff this is a suspected heart attack.
- If you have been trained and you are near a person who loses consciousness due to these symptoms, perform chest compressions at a rate of about 100 per minute.