Cardiovascular disease such as heart disease and stroke is a hugely debilitating disease affecting millions of people worldwide, causing an estimated 17.7 million deaths each year. Hypertension, the ‘silent killer’ and an underlying risk factor for cardiovascular disease, affects nearly half of all South Africans. This World Heart Health Day, we look at the factors contributing to hypertension and ways to lessen our risk.
Dr Deepak Patel, Clinical Specialist at Discovery Vitality, explains that certain conditions such as hypertension are known to have a strong link with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hypertension, or uncontrolled high blood pressure, is dangerous because it can lead to heart attacks, heart enlargement, and eventually heart failure. Hypertension can also damage your blood vessels, and lead to aneurysms (weak spots and bulging in your vessels) and strokes. Additional negative health consequences include possible kidney failure, blindness, and cognitive impairment.”
Patel explains that hypertension is a disease that does its damage to the heart and other organs over time. “Like diabetes, hypertension is often described as a ‘silent killer’. It’s one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease and stroke, but many adults don’t know they have high blood pressure and don’t check it annually as part of preventive screening. This is critical, because with the correct treatment plan, increased exercise and healthier diet changes, the long-term damage of hypertension can be prevented.”
Hypertension is one of the most common chronic conditions affecting South Africans today. Discovery Health Medical Scheme, South Africa’s largest open medical scheme, recently published results of the prevalence of chronic diseases of lifestyle and its impact on healthcare costs. These data show that Hypertension is the commonest chronic illness in the scheme, with 17.3% of adult men, and 15.9% of adult women needing treatment for high blood pressure. The average cost of treatment per member in 2017 was R4 671 but despite the relatively low average cost, the high prevalence of the disease means a far higher total cost for medical scheme – estimated at R1.6 billion in 2017.
Dr Jonathan Broomberg, CEO of Discovery Health, explains that the impact of chronic illnesses such as hypertension is made worse by the presence of multiple chronic conditions that require more complex treatment. “Claim trends from Discovery Health Medical Scheme show that 46% of members who are registered for chronic illness benefits, have more than one chronic condition. The most common combination of chronic conditions we are seeing is hypercholesterolaemia and essential hypertension, which is the case for 5% of members with chronic illnesses. This trend of multiple chronic conditions are set to increase, unless we can address the underlying risky behaviours that contribute to these conditions.”
Data from Discovery’s 2017 life insurance claims experience reveals the immense impact of claims for cardiovascular conditions, particularly for men. Heart and artery conditions are the main cause of death among males constituting 26% of claims paid out to this segment. Male clients demonstrated a 4.5x higher incidence of heart and artery related severe illnesses and are likely to experience this between age 41-60 which represented 69% of male severe illness claimants. To this end, 77% of repeat claimants who previously claimed for heart and artery related conditions had another heart-related claim in 2017. Therefore, those who claim for heart conditions are highly likely to suffer another heart event.
Patel highlights higher levels of obesity and the underlying unhealthy lifestyle choices that result in excess weight, as the main reason behind the higher prevalence of hypertension and other chronic diseases of lifestyle. “Around half of South African adults live sedentary lifestyles, morethan double the global average of 23% – making us one of the most inactive countries in the world, below Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia.”
Physical inactivity has become a global risk factor and predictor of chronic diseases of lifestyle, especially considering the link between obesity and risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes; and exercise as an effective strategy to promote healthy weight. The Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates that 80% of premature deaths before the age of 60, can be prevented by following a heathy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding smoking. Changing these high-risk behaviours could therefore have significant benefits for heart and overall health. For people affected by hypertension and other chronic illnesses, making positive changes in lifestyle, could have significant benefits too.
Patel says, “It’s important that patients with hypertension and other chronic illnesses, manage their health holistically. Incorporate exercise daily, eat a healthier diet with enough fruit and vegetables and keep a check on your health with the help of your doctor, means that you can manage your condition effectively.” And advice for those of us who are healthy? “The same advice applies to those of us who are seemingly healthy. Even if you feel fine, visit your GP or a clinic for a general check-up once a year, or book a Vitality Health Check to track your key health indicators on a regular basis. Taking steps towards prevention and early treatment of hypertension and other chronic illnesses will help ensure a healthier heart,” concludes Patel.
About Discovery Limited
Discovery Limited is a South African-founded financial services organisation that operates in the healthcare, life assurance, short-term insurance, savings and investment products and wellness markets. Founded in 1992, Discovery was guided by a clear core purpose – to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives. Underpinning this core purpose is the belief that through innovation, Discovery can be a powerful market disruptor.
Vitality is a leading behaviour change platform, developed by Discovery, which uses the power of incentives, data and behavioural economics to make people healthier and enhance and protect their lives.
With headquarters in Johannesburg, the company has expanded its operations globally applying its Vitality Shared Value business model into 19 countries through partnerships with a network of leading insurance organisations.
Discovery is an authorised financial services provider and trades under the code “DSY” on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange.
Follow us on Twitter @Discovery_SA