Inside your heart

Posted on 8 June 2021

Chronic heart conditions start early in life, and quietly – but they’re life-threatening if not diagnosed, managed or treated in time. We look at risk factors and everyday, expert interventions designed to reverse them before it’s too late.

The heart is an astonishing organ. Even when we sleep or are at rest, sitting with our feet up enjoying a quiet moment, our heart beats on average between 60 and 100 times a minute. Overall, the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation reports, the human heart will beat about three billion times from birth to the age of 90! Those beats, which you can measure at various pulse points, are the motion of an organ hard at work. The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes this work as follows: “The heart pumps blood to all parts of the body. Blood provides oxygen and nutrients to the body, and removes carbon dioxide and wastes.” Then oxygen-rich blood, powered by our lungs, is circulated back to the heart – and the whole process continues, on and on, keeping us going.

As with any part of the human body, though, sometimes things can go wrong in the heart. Every day, according to the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation, 225 South Africans die because of various heart diseases, which are also grouped together under the label of “cardiovascular diseases”. These include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and rheumatic heart disease. They can be driven by genetic factors, lifestyle choices, birth defects, infections – or a combination of these.

What do we mean when we talk about “lifestyle choices”? Dr Annari van Rensburg, a cardiologist at Mediclinic Durbanville, explains: “Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle leads to cholesterol problems, high blood pressure and insulin resistance or diabetes, which are major risk factors for ischaemic heart disease.” The good news is that positive lifestyle choices and changes in habit are possible. Healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight (or losing weight if necessary), exercising and quitting smoking may seem tough, but they’re not impossible. And these approaches yield positive, sustainable results, which have been well-documented by researchers all over the world. Medical professionals like your GP or cardiologist can also guide you through managing your blood pressure, lowering your blood sugar levels and controlling your cholesterol.

It may sound like a cliché, but there’s a reason that medical professionals tell us “prevention is better than cure”. Taking control of your lifestyle is one way to improve your heart health – but what can you do about genetic risk factors or birth defects? That’s where another cliché comes in: knowledge is power. The more you know about your family’s health history, the better. The more you understand birth defects that have left you or a relative vulnerable to heart disease or other complications, the more you’ll know about how to manage your risk. Mediclinic’s teams of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons are working at the cutting edge of their fields, using the latest technology and their innovative skills to ensure they get to the heart of the matter: keeping you happy, healthy and thriving. Visit today for a heart doctor near you.

Published in Cardiology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.