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Improve heart health

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) reports heart diseases are responsible for 225 deaths daily in South Africa.

A heart attack is caused by a blockage of a blood clot or narrowing of blood vessels, known as coronary arteries, that deliver blood to the heart muscle causing heart muscles to die due to blood and oxygen deprivation.

Symptoms of a heart attack include: chest pain that can feel like pressure, tightness, discomfort or squeezing of the chest, the pain can also spread to your shoulders, arms, neck or jaw, an overwhelming sense of anxiety, shortness of breath, feeling light headed or sudden dizziness, pain in the abdomen, feeling sick or vomiting, fatigue and sweating.

Various factors such as family history of heart attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, stress and lack of exercise play a major role in causing a heart attack. According to the HSFSA, stress alone rarely causes heart disease, but it often leads to behaviours which are major risk factors to heart disease. These include skipping exercise, overeating, snacking on unhealthy foods, and excessive smoking and alcohol drinking.

Dr Annari van Rensburg, a cardiologist at the Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital in Cape Town, pointed out in a press release on behalf of Netcare that stress can lead to a condition called stress cardiomyopathy, known as broken heart syndrome, where extreme emotional or physical stress results in the critical weakening of the heart muscle.

“Unlike a heart attack that kills heart muscle, cardiomyopathy is thought to involve heart cells being stunned by hormones such as adrenaline,” says Van Rensburg. She cautioned that doctors treating patients with cardiomyopathy the same way as those who experienced a conventional heart attack, where blood thinners are often prescribed, can increase the risk of suffering complica­tions. While a healthy diet, regular exercise, reduced drinking and to quit smoking can help reduce the chances of a heart attack, Van Rensburg explained that provision of emotional support and stress management can also play a role in supporting long term heart health.

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