With cardiovascular disease (CVD) claiming the lives of about 110 women in South Africa every day, it can no longer be considered a “man’s disease”. Current rates suggest that more women are dying of heart disease than men and that they’re unlikely to survive their first attack.
How so? Dr Suzette Fourie, a prominent SA cardiologist, offers a plausible explanation.
“The problem could be two-fold. Either doctors are misdiagnosing women or women are misinterpreting heart attack signs.
“A heart attack often presents itself differently in women. Typical symptoms such as tightness, discomfort or chest pain may not be present, instead there could be a wide range of sensations, which could include an uneasy feeling in the chest, abdominal pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck or jaw, a fluttering heartbeat, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, cold sweats or even swollen feet.
“As these symptoms could be related to any number of illnesses, women tend to dismiss the fact that they may be sick and often delay going to the hospital, which increases their risk of dying as a result of a heart attack.
“Heart disease in men is more often due to blockages in their coronary arteries – known as coronary artery disease (CAD), while women more frequently develop heart disease within the smaller arteries that branch out from the coronary arteries, which is referred to as microvascular disease (MVD).
“With September being National Heart Awareness Month, it’s an appropriate time for us to work towards improving women’s awareness of CVD, which in so many cases are preventable,” says Dr Fourie.
In addition to regular exercise and healthy eating, more and more research seems to indicate that drinking plenty of Rooibos tea could significantly reduce a woman’s risk of contracting heart disease.
Prof Jeanine Marnewick, who is well-known for her research into Rooibos’ health properties, some years ago discovered the positive effect that Rooibos has on adults (both men and women) at risk of heart disease. Drinking six cups of Rooibos a day, over a six-week period, significantly reduced the blood cholesterol levels in those that participated in the study. Her findings, along with numerous other local and international studies done on the heart-health benefits of Rooibos, prove that this natural South African wonder packs a protective punch against the deadly disease.
The main heart-health promoting element in Rooibos tea is Chrysoeriol – an antioxidant that helps to prevent and treat vascular disease by inhibiting the migration of smooth muscle cells inside the aorta – a key cause of the narrowing or hardening of the arteries that may lead to a heart attack. Chrysoeriol is also an effective bronchodilator, and helps to lower blood pressure and relieve spasms.
Rooibos tea has also been approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA as a heart-healthy beverage. By incorporating Rooibos tea, which is a widely available, affordable and uniquely South African product, into our diet along with whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables, whilst consuming less processed foods, a woman’s risk of heart disease could be significantly reduced.
Dr Fourie says it’s time that women change their perceptions around heart disease. “We need to put the fact that we are vulnerable to heart disease on our radar screens and recognise the signs at the earliest stage. Making women more aware of the risks, the symptoms and how to take better care of our hearts should be a priority for every woman.
“You are never too young or too old to take care of your heart. Making smart choices now will pay off for the rest of your life,” concludes Fourie.