Heart attacks increasingly affect younger men

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Why are young men more likely to get a heart attack? Photo: File
Why are young men more likely to get a heart attack? Photo: File

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According to Stats SA’s mortality and causes of death report for 2018, heart disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the country.

More and more men under the age of 40 are having heart attacks, with the Cardio Metabolic Institute reporting that one in five heart attack patients are younger than 40 years.

Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, a provider of cardiovascular medication, says heart attacks are no longer just linked to the aged. “Every hour, five people suffer a heart attack. What many don’t realise is that there are usually no signs or symptoms of high blood pressure (hypertension) or high cholesterol, yet both increase your risk of a heart attack and stroke. That’s why it is so important to have these checked by your GP on a regular basis, especially if you’re 40 and older.”

Heart disease is preventable, Jennings says: 

The earlier you start to look after your health, the better for your heart. The first place to start is to recognise the risk factors for heart disease.
 

Risk factors include:

- Smoking, which damages blood vessels and contributes to heart disease. In fact, smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than non-smokers. Quitting at any age is beneficial, but the earlier the better.

- Unhealthy eating leads to excess weight gain and obesity, which both cause cardiovascular disease. It also raises LDL (commonly known as bad) cholesterol levels, which blocks the walls of blood vessels and increases blood pressure.

- Excessive salt intake leads to water retention. This increases blood pressure and puts strain on blood vessels, the heart and other organs. The World Health Organisation recommends no more than 5g per person of salt per day. To reduce your salt consumption, try to limit the amount of processed food in your diet and cut back on the amount of salt you add to your food.

- Physical inactivity heightens your risk of developing high blood pressure, by 30% to 50%, as well as other diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Just 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise (brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming) three to four times a week will help keep your waistline in check, while improving cardiac functioning.

- Heavy drinking can also lead to hypertension or heart failure as it contributes to cardiomyopathy – a disorder that impairs the heart muscle.

- Stress, especially long-term stress, increases cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which raises blood cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure – all common risk factors for heart disease. Chronic stress could also trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking, smoking and other substance abuse, which are all bad for your heart.

“Making small changes to your diet by eating more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains and reducing salt consumption is a much safer way to lose weight, than resorting to extreme dieting,” Jennings says.

Heart attack warning signs and contact details

Chest pain and/or discomfort, which can spread to the arms, neck, jaw or back;

Dizziness or light-headedness, feeling nauseous, indigestion, unexplained sweating or shortness of breath.

If you experience any of these symptoms, call:

National ambulance response – 10177

Private emergency response, Netcare911 – 082 911

National medical emergency response, ER24 – 084 124


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