Given the dramatic climb in deaths associated with noncommunicable diseases, especially heart disease and cancer, it’s important for all South Africans to make health a priority in 2023. 

According to Discovery, which insures more than 40% of SA’s medical scheme market, claims for cardiometabolic conditions (caused by hypertension, abnormal blood glucose levels, triglycerides and obesity) more than tripled since 2020, with a 200% increase in claims last year. 

 Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – the largest provider of cardiovascular medication in the country – says that the increase in diagnoses for cardiovascular and other chronic conditions may likely be the result of patient forgoing regular health checks due to lockdown restrictions and fear of contracting Covid 19. 

“After two years of overflowing intensive care wards, some of COVID-19’s indirect effects are now being felt. Delayed medical care, poor medication adherence, increased barriers to healthy lifestyle behaviours (due to lockdowns), a decline in health checks and screenings and regular exercise are all factors that have led to the current state of affairs.” 

She says during the pandemic, cardiologists warned patients not to avoid or delay treatment, but many forewent health visits because of COVID-19 fears. 

“Patients just weren’t aware of their blood pressure numbers and making sure that it was under control. In other cases, patients who lost their jobs couldn’t afford to see a doctor and/or fill a prescription, because of cost. We are seeing the harm from delayed care now.” 

Thankfully, it’s not too late to set the nation back on a healthy trajectory. 

To curb the elevated trend in disease, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. 

Resume routine doctor’s visits. It’s safe to do so now, and in the context of heart health, it’s important to know your blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol numbers. 

Schedule health screenings. These health checks make people aware of certain health conditions and how to manage it before they become a problem – be it through medication and/or lifestyle modification. 

Kickstart a healthy routine. Make a point of eating healthily, getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and exercising regularly. Staying healthy physically, can help you stay healthy emotionally too. 

Curb your drinking. If you’re concerned about your alcohol consumption, check with your doctor who will be able to tell you if you need to cut back or abstain. Curb your intake by setting a limit, drink slowly, never drink on an empty stomach, choose alcohol-free days and try not to let peer pressure get the better of you. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and many other physical and mental health disorders. 

Stress less. Chronic stress can take a toll on your heart, so find ways of releasing stress, whether it’s through exercise, meditation or spending time in nature. 

Don’t ignore unusual symptoms. Heart attacks and strokes are dangerous conditions that need immediate medical attention. Don’t ignore chest discomfort, shortness of breath, sudden light-headedness or cold sweats. Also be aware of stroke symptoms, 

such as face drooping or speech difficulty. Acting quickly by calling an ambulance or taking the patient to the ER, can save their lives. 

“Making healthy choices isn’t always easy, but taking care of your health isn’t optional. It should be your first commitment every single day. 

“The New Year is the perfect time to wipe the proverbial slate clean and start afresh. Encourage your loved ones and friends to do the same. After all, good health is the foundation of everything we want to do and achieve in life,” says Jennings. 

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