On Saturday, 29 September, people will be celebrating World Heart Day, established in 2000. According to the World Heart Federation, the annual event was created to, "inform people around the globe that heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading cause of death, claiming 17.3 million lives each year and the numbers are rising."
Samantha Thomas is St Helena's sole cardiac nurse. I wondered if heart disease was a problem for the island. "It is a problem on the island and worldwide, just like cancer," replied Samantha. "For us here, it is picking up the working population because they are the ones having high blood pressure, they are the ones having high cholesterol." Community nurses are visiting work places throughout the island. Samantha estimates around 7 in 10 people tested in the work place is referred to her for blood pressure issues, with a handful of those referred patients going on to receiving medication to treat their condition.
The health department has approximately 1,259 registered hypertensive patients. Of that number, 18%, are between the ages of 45 to 54 years old. "The thing with age is that it can affect our health in general," said Samantha. "When we are younger, our organs tend to function the way they should. But as we get older, this doesn't work properly and that don't work properly; very similar to if you own a car. When you first get your brand new car, it will work perfectly. But, after a few years this goes wrong with your car, that goes wrong. So that is how age plays a part in heart disease."
"In general you should have a healthier lifestyle," continued Samantha. "By having a healthier lifestyle you are not only reducing your risk of heart disease, but other conditions like diabetes and cancer. When we are promoting health, we promote a healthy lifestyle to reduce diseases you could contract from an unhealthy lifestyle."
Anya Williams, is our local nutritionist. "Fresh fruit and vegetables can be difficult to get at times," said Anya. "However, if there's not fresh produce available then you have a choice of tinned fruit or vegetables, or frozen fruit and vegetable and juice as well.
Samantha believes that a healthy life style starts at home but as the cardiac nurse one of her major concerns when it comes to St Helena are the hearts of its youth. "We are picking up a few younger patients," confided Samantha, "even under the age of twenty. They are still young and I think to myself, what is going to happen if they don't change their lifestyle now? Where will they be or what could happen to them in the next ten or twenty years?"
I asked Anya if she provided patients with heart problems with advice? "Mostly, for those with high cholesterol and triglyceride level," responded Anya. "We meet and discuss how they can help themselves by making little changes to their diet. Something else that is important is exercise and physical activity and it is important to help our heart health, to keep our heart strong, to keep it healthy."
And Anya's recommendation for exercise! "Our ideal aim is at least 30 minutes five times in the week. However for someone who might not be as active at the present time, it's about gradually trying to build it and reach that level over a number of weeks. Cardio exercise is what really challenges the heart and keeps it healthy."