Study reveals where in SA the risk of heart disease is highest

SEPTEMBER 14, 2016

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in SA, after HIV/Aids. Over 78 000 South Africans die each year from heart disease and there are no signs of a decrease in the foreseeable future.

It’s well known that SA has one of the highest rates of obesity, smoking and drinking in the world, which are all major contributing factors of cardiovascular disease, but the incidence of CVD also tends to vary based on where you live.

SA’s leading provider of generic cardiovascular medication, Pharma Dynamics, set out to determine people’s likely risk of suffering a heart attack based on where in SA they live. They did so by analysing the number of calls a top emergency response firm - which treats both medical aid and state patients - received for possible heart attacks across the country over a two-year period (May 2014 to April 2016). The study turned up some interesting results.

Based on the number of emergency calls received related to possible heart failures, the Northern region of the Western Cape, topped the list with 701 calls, while residents of Xtrata – a small mining town in Mpumalanga – seemed to have a very slim chance of suffering the same fate.

The second most heart-related emergency calls emanated from Vereeniging – arguably the town that boasts the most car dealerships per square metre in the country, which could be telling of the kind of stress car salespeople in the area are under since the global slump in automotive sales.

Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics says chronic job stress has a major impact on one’s heart-health and exposes the body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which puts additional strain on the heart.

“Studies also link stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. High levels of stress could also make other risk factors, such as cholesterol or hypertension worse.”

According to Pharma Dynamics’ findings, overall the most calls originated from the larger metros in the country.

Van Aswegen remarks that in general those living in metropolitan areas struggle with chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity and diabetes – all precursors for heart disease.

“Residents in the majority of these areas are among the least likely to exercise regularly and smoking rates also tend to be high, which further heightens their risk of heart disease. Poor diet is also commonly associated with heart conditions. Unfortunately, the demands of a fast-paced urban lifestyle doesn’t leave much room for nutritional meal planning and it’s increasingly putting people into contact with fast-food, which often carries a high fat, sugar and salt content,” she says.

Based on the report, here’s how South Africans’ risk of suffering a heart attack varies by province:

  1. Gauteng residents are twice as likely to suffer from a heart attack than those living in KwaZulu-Natal, and have by far the highest risk overall as a whopping 3 359 emergency calls for heart-related conditions emanated from this part of the country.
  2. Despite the sun, surf and laid-back lifestyle Western Cape residents enjoy, the picture doesn’t look much rosier for them as about 2 320 emergency calls were made from this region.
  3. It’s still a code blue situation for Durbanites following the 1 692 calls that were recorded in KwaZulu-Natal.
  4. The Free State is also not in the clear after clocking 1 047 emergency calls related to possible ticker-problems.
  5. Residents in Mpumalanga seem to have a much lower likelihood of suffering a heart attack based on the 868 emergency calls that were made from the area.
  6. The risk however drops significantly for those in the Eastern Cape where about 552 emergency calls were logged.
  7. The vast open spaces of the Northern Cape might have something to do with its low heart-failure risk where only about 408 calls were made from.
  8. The Platinum Belt also seem to struggle with fewer heart-related conditions as a low 384 emergency calls originated from the North West Province.
  9. Folk in Limpopo – the fifth most populated province – are clearly doing something right as only 201 emergency calls were made from this region.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA, 75% of cardiovascular events occur in 5% - 10% of people who have suffered a previous heart attack or stroke.

“In the event of a heart attack, it’s critical to respond quickly,” says van Aswegen. “Immediately call an emergency response number so an ambulance with advanced life support can be sent for you. The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort, but other symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea and back or jaw pain may also be present.”

“To avoid a life-threatening incident such as a heart attack, people should inform themselves of the early signs and symptoms of heart disease in order to enable them to seek the necessary help while there’s still time. When treatment is started early – in combination with other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking – serious long-term complications can be prevented. As things stand, only about 40% of South Africans who have high blood pressure have their condition under control by taking medication.

“Promoting a healthy and active lifestyle cannot be overstated in the treatment of patients with heart conditions. This approach addresses all the risk factors present in a patient and can have an enormous impact on the patient’s quality of life and life-span,” she emphasises.

For more information about Pharma Dynamics’ national wellness campaign, called I Change for Health (iC4H), which aims to reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke, visit

“Knowing how people’s risk of heart disease break down by city or province could help healthcare researchers to redirect their focus in the areas where the risk is highest,” concludes van Aswegen.