About 18% of all deaths in South Africa – or an average of 224 per day – are a result of cardiovascular disease, making it the leading cause of death in the country after HIV/Aids. And while age has long been seen as the biggest risk factor, growing numbers of young people between the ages of 20 and 40 are now suffering heart attacks too.

“We tend to think of heart disease as something that only affects older people,” explains Dr Kerissa Naidoo, Chief Medical Officer at Old Mutual. “But this is not true – and the very notion that it’s a disease of the elderly is dangerous because it undermines its rising prevalence among adults of all ages.”

“Because people with existing cardiovascular disease are at higher risk of developing severe Covid-19, it’s more important than ever to recognise that heart disease can impact any of us at any life stage,” Naidoo says. 

Old Mutual’s 2019 statistics show heart attack claims have spiked by 113% since 2016. Cardiovascular diseases shot up from fourth to second-most claimed for illness in the same period. 

Globally, cardiovascular diseases, which cover both heart attack and stroke, are the number one cause of death, accounting for 31% (or 17.9 million) of all lives lost each year. 

As for why more young people are being affected by cardiovascular diseases, Dr Naidoo points to lifestyle factors – including diet, physical activity levels, stress and smoking – as the most likely contributors.

The good news, she says, is that up to 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes can be prevented by proactively screening for, and controlling, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels (or diabetes) as the biggest indicators of cardiovascular disease risk.

“Living a healthy lifestyle is the first line of defence,” agrees Thembisa Mapukata, General Manager: Alternative Distribution for Retail Mass Market.

“But the truth is that we simply don’t have full control of all the risks that may come our way all the time. Our genes, the nature of our jobs and unforeseeable events all come into play. That’s why Illness insurance can also play a vital role.

“Should you develop a condition such as a heart attack or stroke, our Illness insurance makes it possible to get the best possible care so that you can rest and focus on recovery,” adds Mapukata.

With Illness insurance from Old Mutual, a percentage of the cover amount (between R100 000 and R6 million), is paid in a single, tax-free amount, to help with the costs of rehabilitation, travel to treatment centres, any modifications you might need to make to your car or home and even to help paying your monthly bills while you take time off work to recover. 

It’s customisable, allowing you to add features at an extra cost. As an example, the Top-up Benefit increases the percentage pay-out to your full cover amount and the Lifestyle Enhancer option pays out double your cover amount if your quality of life is severely impacted by an accidental brain injury, coma, heart attack, paralysis or a stroke and you can no longer care for yourself. 

With building cover that’s right for you, Old Mutual’s Illness insurance also gives you the option of adding the Returning Illness Benefit, which pays up to 50% of the cover amount for returning severe illnesses (such as cancer, heart attack or stroke) after the full cover amount has already been paid.

And because you can add or remove features as your life changes, it’s insurance at its most flexible. You’ll be covered immediately as well – for up to 30 days before you’ve paid your first premium. 

“We tend to think of ourselves as invincible, especially before we reach mid-life. But the reality is that life is unpredictable at any age. Good Illness insurance acknowledges the risks and ensures the best possible outcome for both your physical and financial health,” Mapukata says. 

Sources: Heart Foundation and World Heart Federation

Find out more at http://oldmutual.co.za/personal-cover or speak to your financial adviser #PersonalCover  @OldMutualSA 

Old Mutual Life Assurance Company (SA) Ltd is a licensed FSP.