With August being women’s month, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa is dedicated to empowering women to take care of their heart and brain health by adopting healthy life choices and behaviours.
A nurse living with a cardiovascular disease, Welhemina Phokungoane said she was in the process of launching an awareness campaign with the foundation to raise awareness in rural areas.
“Prior to the Covid pandemic, I was in the process of launching an awareness campaign in Limpopo because people in the villages did not understand the medication they were prescribed and ended up reacting to it because some of them would collapse and believed they were bewitched, whereas the person probably suffered from a clot or took the medication without clear instructions,” she said.
Phokungoane said she was diagnosed with rheumatic heart fever when she was in her teens and was the first in her family to ever be diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease.
“I was diagnosed with the cardiovascular disease when I was 16 years old. The symptoms were painful joints, which later made me unable to walk,” explained Phokungoane.
The mother of two said she was hospitalised for the condition but it soon progressed to an advanced stage because she was inconsistent in taking her medication.
“I spent three months in hospital. I was prescribed oral medication and had to receive antibiotic injections on a monthly basis. Because I was young and lived in a rural area where there was limited information about the disease, I stopped taking my medication because I felt better until I fell pregnant seven years later and doctors said I had developed rheumatic heart disease which meant the disease had progressed.”
According to the latest report by the Lancet Commission on Women and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), based on data from the 2019 global burden of disease study, about 275 million women lived with CVD, seven million
people died from CVD annually, and Ischemic heart disease (47% of CVD deaths) followed by stroke (36% of CVD deaths) were the leading causes of death in women worldwide.
Phokungoane added being diagnosed with the disease forced her to make a lifestyle change.
“I underwent surgery in 2013 after the fever progressed to a disease. I was also on blood thinner medication which required me to monitor my diet. Other things one was not allowed to do while taking the cardiovascular medication was to fall pregnant. I had to also take monthly blood tests which determined the dosage of my medication,” she said.
The nurse encouraged women to monitor whatever pains they had and seek medical advice.
The foundation’s chief executive Professor Pamela Naidoo said in SA, the proportion of CVD deaths in women between the ages of 35 and 59 was one and a half times more likely than that of women in the United States.
“High blood pressure is the single largest risk factor for CVD in women, followed by high body mass index and increased low-density cholesterol,” she said.
Naidoo added: “gestational diabetes and preeclampsia were examples of risk factors specific to women. Hormones, especially oestrogen, also played a role in protecting women from heart disease, which suggested a woman’s risk for heart disease increased after menopause.”