Step up and stamp out heart disease

Not only does September signify the start of Spring and new beginnings, it is also Heart Awareness Month in South Africa. Heart disease is one of the leading killers in the country, so if you're going to do any cleaning up or starting afresh this Spring, make sure it starts with your lifestyle.

As many as one in three men and one in four women will have a heart condition before the age of 60 largely owing to lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, stress, smoking and an unhealthy diet. These lifestyle factors can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol, which subsequently may cause heart disease and heart attacks.

Some sobering statistics provided by Fedhealth show that an alarmingly high number of its members are registered on its chronic medication programme all with cardiac-related conditions. Of these, 12.9% are taking medication for high blood pressure, 6.3% for high cholesterol, 1.1% for ischaemic heart disease, and 11.3% for type 2 diabetes.

"Concern over the high number of our members with cardiac-related events prompted us to initiate a cardiac-rehabilitation programme in 2006," says Dr Natie Finkelstein, Chairman of Fedhealth's Managed Healthcare Committee. "To date we have had extremely positive results and feedback from members participating in the programme. All have experienced definite health improvements: however; too few members utilise this useful intervention when invited to participate."

 High-risk cardiac patients

The cardiac-rehabilitation programme is presented in conjunction with the Sports Science Institute of South Africa in Newlands, Cape Town, and the Wits Metro Cardio Gym, which is part of the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School in Parktown, Johannesburg. The programme is offered to members who are identified as high-risk cardiac patients based on previous hospital admissions.

The full cost of the programme, which is managed by Medscheme Health Risk Solutions, is covered by Fedhealth's risk benefit. On enrolment, beneficiaries are required to make a 15% co-payment that is redeemable on successful completion of the programme. The programme essentially aims to modify risk factors through a holistic approach that includes regular exercise, dietary intervention, stress management and education under full medical supervision. This can be supplemented by a medically directed exercise programme.

Cardiac artery bypass procedures currently have the greatest impact on increases to hospital costs, followed by the insertion of cardiac stents.

Know your numbers

According to Finkelstein, someone who undergoes bypass surgery spends on average 13 days in hospital, of these 7 days are spent in ICU at an average cost of R9 700 per day. In 2011 to date, Fedhealth covered 39 members for heart bypass surgeries. 

"The best advice I can offer people concerning their heart health is to know your numbers. This means having your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose tested regularly and also making sure your body mass and waist circumference are within medically acceptable limits. Deviation from medically acceptable levels are indicators of possible cardiac risk," comments Finkelstein.

Finkelstein adds that by tackling the risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poorly controlled diabetes, being overweight and not exercising you can greatly decrease the risk of developing heart disease.

"It all comes down to making simple lifestyle changes like trying to eat more healthily and participating in moderate exercise, this can make a big difference to the health of your heart. It is no secret that smoking is bad for you but you should know that the risk of heart attacks and sudden death drops by half within one year after smoking cessation. After two years, the risk associated with previous smoking is almost zero! It comes down to making healthy choices and people choosing heart health over unhealthy Western habits," concludes Finkelstein.

Fedhealth press release

- (Health24, September 2011)

Read more:

Know your numbers for a healthy heart
Love your heart, make one change
Keep your heart pumping

Any questions? Ask Health24's Cardiologist

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