It's never too early to care for your heart

While it is commonly believed that heart failure and other chronic diseases such as diabetes only affect middle-aged and older people, risk factors can develop from much earlier in life, and younger people should start caring for their health as early as possible.

Tuesday, September 14 2010

While it is commonly believed that heart failure and other chronic diseases such as diabetes only affect middle-aged and older people, risk factors can develop from much earlier in life, and younger people should start caring for their health as early as possible.

This was the message from Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s Hospital Division, during National Heart Awareness Month. Netcare, in partnership with Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres and supported by Roche Accu-Chek, is bringing ‘better heart care to the people’ by offering free glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure (hypertension) and BMI screenings at selected Netcare Hospitals and Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres on Friday, 25 and Saturday, 26 September 2009.

According to Du Plessis, many South Africans are increasingly engaging in habits that are harmful to their heart or cardiovascular system, such as eating foods rich in saturated fats and/or smoking. Stress is also very prevalent in today’s fast-moving world. Long-term exposure to all these factors may cause damage to the cardiovascular system over time and could eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.

This is why it is so important to start practicing habits that are healthy for the cardiovascular system early in life, preferably even from birth, he says. It is also why selected Netcare Hospitals, Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres and Roche Accu-Chek have got together to offer the free screenings to members of the public.

‘A heart attack or stroke is so often caused by unhealthy living habits,’ says Du Plessis. ‘High blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic illnesses are often the result of eating fatty foods over the years and living with high levels of stress. A lack of exercise - being a ‘couch potato’ - and smoking do not help. All of these are behaviours that are under our own control, and we all need to take responsibility for our own health.’

This year the ambassador for the free screening drive, or the ‘The Healthy Heart Family Drive’ as it is called, is Wally Katzke, who achieved fame for being the first South African to have his open-heart surgery broadcast on national television in 2008. The event, during which the public got to ‘Meet Wally’s heart’, was profoundly educational for many viewers and Wally’s heart became something of a celebrity!

Wally Katzke urges family members to support one another in their efforts to reach better heart health. He says he could never have made it through his ordeal without the support of his family, and wishes he had known more about how to prevent heart disease earlier in his life.

‘Parents should be educating children on the importance of a good diet and healthy living and encourage their school-going children to be screened too on the 25th and 26th September,’ he suggests. ‘For couples concerned about their health and well-being a visit to the closest participating Netcare Hospital or Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres Centre can be turned into a meaningful and life-enhancing project. It really is better to prevent yourself from having a heart attack rather than having to deal with the consequences of having one. Ask me, I should know!’

‘One out of every four South Africans between the ages of 15 and 64 suffer from hypertension or what is more commonly known as high blood pressure, a major cause of heart failure,’ adds Dr Charmaine Pailman, managing director of the Netcare Primary Healthcare Division, of which Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres and Prime Cure form a part. ‘Throughout the Western world it has become the number one medical complaint and in South Africa it is the third highest cause of death amongst adults.

‘High blood pressure generally leads to three major illnesses, namely strokes, heart and kidney disease - all of which can be fatal. They can, however, be prevented by timeous diagnosis and intervention,’ she observes. ‘But the sad reality is that most people suffering from hypertension have few symptoms, if any, and they are often totally unaware of this illness. Those suffering from high blood pressure can, however, take comfort in the knowledge that research has shown most strokes and heart attacks could have been prevented by a change in lifestyle and by the use of medication.

That is exactly why regular medical check-ups are so important in the early detection and treatment of high blood pressure.’

Another important risk factor in causing heart disease is raised cholesterol, according to Dr Pailman. Many South Africans are genetically predisposed towards raised cholesterol. For instance, in the United States and Europe, raised cholesterol affects one in 500 people, while in South Africa it affects about one in 80 people in certain population groups.

Statistics have also shown that South African women, who are traditionally less susceptible to heart disease than males, are nevertheless highly vulnerable, with one in four women succumbing to coronary heart disease by the age of 60.

Dr Pailman says that raised cholesterol as a risk factor for heart disease is made worse by lack of exercise, unhealthy eating habits and smoking. ‘There are people with such dangerously high levels of blood cholesterol that diet and lifestyle changes alone will be ineffective in lowering cholesterol sufficiently.

‘Doctors may then resort to prescribing one of the cholesterol-lowering drugs. In all instances of high cholesterol, however, doctors recommend lifestyle changes such as cutting out most fats from the diet, stopping smoking, and starting a moderate exercise programme.’

Dr Pailman suggests that many people have no idea of their cholesterol levels or the state of their arteries and that their first indication of a problem may well be a heart attack.

She recommends that a cholesterol test should be taken at least once by everyone over the age of 35, and regularly monitored in patients with a known history of high cholesterol and blood lipid disorders.

Free screenings will be held at selected Netcare Hospitals and Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres nationwide between 08:00 and 18:00 on Friday, 25 September and between 08:30 and 13:00 on Saturday, 26 September 2009. For more information on the nationwide Netcare Hospital and Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres participation in the ‘Healthy Heart Family Drive’, log on to

The 10-point Netcare and Medicross healthy heart plan

  • Have regular check-ups to ensure that your blood pressure and cholesterol levels remain under control;
  • If you have been prescribed medication to control high blood pressure, cholesterol levels or for diabetes, do not stop taking it without consulting your doctor first;
  • If you are overweight, lose weight;
  • Control your alcohol intake;
  • Stop smoking;
  • Exercise more often;
  • Reduce your salt intake;
  • Cut back on processed food and eat more fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and white meat;
  • Increase the potassium intake in your diet, i.e. eat more bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, pulses such as dried peas and beans; and
  • Reduce the stress in your life - relax and enjoy yourself!

As part of a nationwide outreach by Netcare and Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres the group will be running an aggressive print and radio campaign between 22 and 26 September, 2009.


Issued by Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare and Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres.
For further information kindly contact: Martina Nicholson or Graeme Swinney on (011) 469-3016 or email  or