According to the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation cardiovascular disease (CVD), once thought to be a disease associated with the elderly, now accounts for more than half of deaths before the age of 65, and premature deaths in people of working age (35-64 years) are expected to rise 41% by 2030.
On September 29, which is World Heart Day, Medtronic, provider of medical products, services, and solutions, is urging people to have their heart checks as soon as possible because doing so can save lives.
Peter Mehlape, managing director of Medtronic Southern Africa, says bradycardia, a condition in which the heart beats too slowly to sustain normal functioning, is one of the most prevalent heart diseases that can be easily detected.
He says simply paying attention to your heartbeat can indicate whether you require medical attention or a pacemaker, a straightforward surgical procedure that can delay death and allow you to live a full, healthy life.
A pacemaker is a tiny, battery-powered device that is implanted in your chest and corrects conduction irregularities in the heart. It does this by detecting when your heart is beating too slowly and sending a signal to your heart to speed up its rate.
There are different levels of bradycardia, says Dr. Iftikhar Ebrahim, an interventional cardiologist working at Raslouw Hospital in Centurion, and not everyone with a slow heartbeat needs a pacemaker.
“The normal resting heart rate should be between 60-100 beats per minute. Anything below 60 beats per minute is considered slow, and I would advise anyone with a heart rate persistently below 50, to have their doctor check it and have an electrocardiogram,” he said.
“However, a heart rate persistently below 40 beats per minute requires urgent attention, because it would indicate a heart block.”
Ebrahim goes on to say that the most frequent and dangerous heart block is a third-degree one, which occurs when there is essentially no contact between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. Syncope (fainting) and vertigo are caused by the heart's inability to keep the blood flowing to the brain.
Dr Ebrahim explains: “The sinus node is a collection of nerves in the top chamber that trigger the heart when to beat faster or slower depending on activity, emotions, and other factors. Its function begins to wane and leads to symptomatic fainting.”
He adds that slow heartbeats are normal, in athletes who are in excellent physical condition, but notes that they frequently develop sinus node dysfunction as they age.
Dr. Kaveshree Govender, a cardiologist who specialises in heart rhythm abnormalities and cardiac implantable electronic devices, says implanting a pacemaker is a straightforward surgery and is frequently performed at a day clinic under conscious sedation rather than general anaesthesia.
“Patients can continue with their normal lives after the operation, although they won’t be able to lift their left arm above shoulder-height for six weeks – so swimming and golf would be out. After that, though, they will have six-monthly check-ups but can expect and enjoy a normal, full life,” Govender said.
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