Preventing Heart Attacks and Strokes

According to the World Heart Federation, more South Africans are dying from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases than ever before and unhealthy diets are one of the main culprits. The South African Heart and Stroke Foundation claims that unhealthy diets and lack of exercise has resulted in South Africa having the world’s highest rate of high blood pressure among people over the age of 50 years old.

With statistics like these, South Africans need to drastically reassess their dietary habits, start exercising and familiarize themselves with the symptoms of heart attacks and strokes.

Thanks to Hollywood’s depiction of heart attacks, we tend to believe that they only happen to males and that they present themselves as an intense pain in the chest followed by the person dramatically collapsing. The reality is that females are also at risk and the signs and symptoms are not that easy to recognize. In addition, many people tend not to act when they experience only a couple of the symptoms because they feel embarrassed and don’t want to make a fuss in case their symptoms are a false alarm.

The difference between a heart attack and a stroke

During a heart attack, blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced or cut off. This is a result of the arteries that supply the heart with blood, slowly narrowing from a buildup of fat, cholesterol or substances such as plaque. If the clot cuts off the blood flow completely, then part of the heart muscle begins to die.

A stroke can be referred to as a “brain attack” and occurs when vital blood flow and oxygen are cut off to the brain as a result of a clogged blood vessel. In the case of both, a heart attack and a stroke, the faster the patients receives treatment to restore blood flow, the better their chance of survival.

Signs that you may be having a heart attack

  • Mild to severe pressure, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest. These symptoms may come and go.

  • Discomfort in areas, such as the arms, neck, jaw, back, or stomach.

  • Shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, or breaking out in a cold sweat.

In women these are not the most obvious symptoms and are more likely than men to experience unusual fatigue, nausea or indigestion and dizziness or lightheadedness.

Signs that you may be having a stroke:

  • Sudden severe headache

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg. Especially if the sensation is on one side of the body.

  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

  • Sudden blurred vision in one or both eyes

  • Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination.

How to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke

  • Do NOT smoke!

  • Control high blood pressure

  • Manage high cholesterol with diet and medication

  • Manage diabetes

  • Exercise regularly

  • Check for a family history of heart disease or stroke

Anyone over the age of twenty should be screened at least every two years. The screening will include a blood pressure test, diabetes and cholesterol test, body mass index, waist circumference, and pulse rate.

This video reinforces the fact that many patients do not understand the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

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