Men of European descent over the age of 50 are the most vulnerable for the development of atherosclerosis – the most common disorder associated with cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).
According to a new study by researchers in the Human Molecular Biology Unit in the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) into atherosclerosis in South Africa, nearly half of men in this group had visible signs of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries of the heart.
This was in contrast to the only roughly one-tenth of the African-descent men and women in the same age bracket.
More than a third of women of European descent over 50 had visible atherosclerosis in their coronary arteries.
The study was conceptualised in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, due to reports of excessive blood clots associated with both acute Covid-19 infection and some of the vaccines.
The data was collected over a couple of months in 2021, out of more than 10 000 case files spanning 10 years. The study is still ongoing.
One hypothesis regarding a possible explanation for the discrepancy is based on the theory that socioeconomic status may be a driving force behind CVD, as wealthier people in South Africa, historically people of European descent, have the means to afford and adopt lifestyles that contribute to the increased risk of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, hypercholesterolaemia and diabetes, which are associated with a higher risk to develop CVD.
“We postulate that CVD-related deaths are traditionally lower among South Africans of African descent compared to the other ethnic populations due to the historical socioeconomic discrepancy between people of African descent and other population groups in higher-income countries.”
Factors that have been associated with a higher risk for atherosclerosis include the use of tobacco, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, obesity, HIV infection and diabetes.
“Atherosclerosis remains a major risk factor for CVD, and thus, believed to be a good indicator of the CVD profile in a population, yet little is known on its prevalence in sub-Saharan African populations. We aimed to determine the prevalence of atherosclerosis in a diverse South African population as found in post-mortem investigations. A retrospective file audit was done on 10 240 forensic post-mortem reports done at a forensic pathology mortuary in South Africa, over 10 years,” said Dr Walter Janse van Rensburg, Senior Lecturer in the Human Molecular Biology Unit at the School of Biomedical Sciences, UFS.
According to him, cardiovascular diseases are reportedly the leading cause of mortality worldwide, while diseases of the circulatory system account for nearly a fifth of all deaths in South Africa.
The study, however, also found that the prevalence of CVDs and the incidence of premature CVD-related deaths are steadily increasing in both rural and urban communities and across the socioeconomic spectrum.
“For all population groups, males are more affected than females within their demographic group. This may also be possibly attributed to the socioeconomic status and access to the healthcare gender-gap differential in the country.”