Heart Mark

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Ladies, take care of your hearts

This Women’s month, we take a closer look at what’s claiming the lives of 1 in 5 South African women. Typically perceived to be a man’s disease, heart disease and stroke is actually the biggest killer among women globally, and kills more women than men in South Africa, especially after the age of 65 years. Globally, it’s responsible for a third of all deaths in women, killing more women than all cancers, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Locally, 36 women die each day in South Africa from a stroke.


Lifestyles. Our lifestyles are largely to blame for the growing problem of heart disease, which we see in both men and women. We simply eat too much, smoke and drink too much, and aren’t active enough. Some of these unhealthy habits are seen more frequently in women. For example, almost 50% of South African women are physically inactive, compared to only a quarter of men. Women are also more likely to have high blood pressure, the leading risk factor of cardiovascular disease, at age 65 years and older. Added to this problem is that up to a shocking 70% of South African women are overweight or obese, which heightens their risk too.

Menopause. The risk of heart disease in women seems to increase significantly around menopause, which may be partly explained by declining oestrogen levels. An unhealthy lifestyle and diet also seems to take its toll around menopause where we often see an increase in blood pressure and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels.

Milder heart attack warning signs. Another significant distinct difference in heart disease between men and women is that women are less likely to survive a heart attack and their warning signs are often less obvious. Women often experience milder symptoms of a heart attack such as uncomfortable pressure, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, back pain, unexplained fatigue, dizziness and sweating. These symptoms are often ignored, resulting in misdiagnosis and delays in treatment.


The good news is that heart disease and strokes are largely preventable, so there is a lot we can do to lower our risks. In fact, nearly 80 % of deaths from heart disease and strokes can be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle. Below are simple steps you can take to help prevent developing heart disease:

  • Eat better. This means eating more of the foods we know are good, like fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, lean protein foods and dairy products; less of the bad stuff like sugar, salt and bad fats; and eating the right amount to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get active. Exercise keeps us healthy, maintains a healthy blood pressure and weight. Anything that increases the heart rate counts. Try brisk walking, jogging, swimming, dancing or even gardening. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week e.g. 30 minutes five times a week.
  • Be smoke-free. Smoking is the 2nd leading cause of heart disease, after high blood pressure. It almost triples the risk of heart disease and more than doubles the risk of having a stroke. Exposure to secondhand smoke is also very harmful. Click here for advice to stop smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, losing even 5% to 10% of your weight can help to dramatically reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Know your numbers: have your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels checked regularly, as high levels increase your risk. High blood pressure and cholesterol are both considered “silent killers” because there are no warnings signs to tell you that there’s a problem, unless you get them tested. If your doctor has prescribed medication for these, then take it as directed.

Our women, mothers, sisters and girl-friends are too precious to lose at this rate, so don’t fall into thinking “heart disease is a man’s disease” or “I feel fine, it won’t happen to me”. Start making changes to lower your risk today!