Understanding cardiovascular disease
By Dr Jane Benjamin
Cardiovascular disease refers to heart disease (angina & heart attacks), stroke & disease affecting your vessels.
CVD is the leading cause of preventable deaths. 80% of heart disease and stroke could be prevented by simple lifestyle measures. Risk factors for CVD are often silent, meaning we are unaware of them until it is too late.
There are certain risk factors that you can’t changes, these include:
- Age: risk increases with age
- Sex: Men are at greater risk than women
- Genetics: Your risk increases if you have a first-degree relative affected at a young age or a family history of high cholesterol
- Ethnicity: risk differs among ethnic groups
- Socioeconomic status: Death from cardiovascular disease is 3 times higher in the poorest areas
Other risk factors:
- Lack of Exercise
- Diet (low in fruit and veg, high in saturated fat, high in salt and sugars)
- High blood pressure
- Increased alcohol intake
- Increased psychosocial stress
- Being overweight
Other illnesses can increase cardiovascular risk, and treatment of these conditions may reduce the risk. These conditions include:
- Diabetes (and pre-diabetes/metabolic syndrome).
- Chronic kidney disease
- Atrial fibrillation
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
How to reduce your risk of CVD?
- See your doctor for a proper risk assessment:
- to check for other illnesses that increase risk including diabetes and high blood pressure
- to check your cholesterol, thyroid function and sugar levels
- to check blood pressure, waist circumference and BMI (body mass index)
- Eat well to protect your heart
- At least 5 portions of fruit and veg daily
- Reduce salt intake
- Eat oily fish
- Reduce total fat, saturated fat and sugar intake
- Avoid excessive intake of caffeine containing drinks
- Stop smoking
- Stay active:
- 30 min of exercise 5 days a week is advised, this can be in 10 min bursts throughout the day
- Keep an eye on your alcohol intake:
- Men should not have more than 3-4 units per day/ 21 units per week
- Females should not have more than 2-3 units per day/14units per week
- Don’t binge drink and have 2-3 alcohol free days a week
- Keep an eye on your weight:
- If you are overweight BMI>25 your doctor will offer you advice and support to help you achieve a healthy weight
What if you are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease?
Your risk is modifiable, that means with dietary and lifestyle changes your risk can be reduced. If you are at high risk, together with the lifestyle changes listed above, you may benefit from lipid lowering agents such as statins, and or aspirin or a similar drug.
For more information please contact your doctor or visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa website www.heartfoundation.co.za/