The cardiovascular disease (CVD) burden in South Africa is increasing among all age groups and is predicted to become the principle contributor to overall morbidity and mortality in people over the age of 50.

Angina interferes with one’s ability to perform daily activities, impairs quality of life and may necessitate early retirement because of an inability to continue working.

Ischaemic heart disease (IHD) is a major contributor to CVD in this country.

It is one of the 10 leading causes of death overall and, in 2016, was the 5th leading cause of death in people older than 65 years.In the 2014 South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the prevalence of heart attack, angina and chest pain (IHD) was approximately 6% among Africans, 14% among Whites and 29% among individuals of Asian or Indian descent.3

IHD is responsible for considerable morbidity worldwide and the most common symptom of it is angina pectoris.4 International data suggests around half of all people with coronary artery disease (CAD) initially present with angina, and of those reporting angina, approximately one out of four report daily or weekly symptoms.5,6  Patients with angina are more than twice as likely to suffer a major cardiovascular event and frequently live with anxiety and depression.5,7 Angina interferes with ability to perform daily activities, impairs quality of life and may necessitate early retirement because of inability to continue working.4

In South Africa, too, angina is common in people with cardiovascular disease (CVD). In a rural population of adults in Mpumalanga with a mean age of 62 years, the overall prevalence of angina was approximately 9%. In total, 77% of the individuals who said they had CVD (12% of the total population) reported having angina.8 

The Heart of Soweto study examined the prevalence of heart disease in a large urban South African community undergoing epidemiological transition. Among more than 5000 individuals presenting to the cardiology unit at the Chris Hani Baragwaneth Hospital in Soweto, Gauteng, the prevalence of angina was 12% overall, 11% among the African patients and 17% among a group of Caucasian, Indian and mixed descent individuals.9

In 2016, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa estimates that every hour five people in South Africa will have a heart attack.10

Despite the high prevalence of angina, globally, it remains under-recognised and suboptimally managed, both in terms of advice regarding lifestyle modification and appropriate use of medication and/or coronary revascularisation.4 In one study of patients in cardiology outpatient practices in the USA, angina was under-recognised in 43% of patients who reported symptoms in the previous month.11 Among patients with frequent angina, 44% were on suboptimal antianginal pharmacotherapy.12 

Optimal medical therapy (OMT) is pivotal in the management of stable angina pectoris. Studies show that there are no differences between percutaneous interventions and OMT with regard to all major outcomes and current clinical guidelines recommend OMT to control symptoms before considering coronary artery revascularisation.4,13 

However, even in the private cardiology service in SA, only 25% of patients who might have benefitted (average age 65 years) were treated with OMT as the initial management approach.13 In a rural South African population only 6% of those with angina were receiving treatment at all.8

In response to these alarming international figures, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Working Group on Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy has launched the Angina Awareness Initiative. This is a worldwide initiative aimed at increasing awareness on angina and its risk factors among patients and healthcare providers to improve its management.14In South Africa, the scientific partner is the South African Heart Association, whose vision is to advance cardiovascular healthcare for all living in South Africa.

The first Angina Awareness week will take place in April 2019. For more information visit

This initiative is supported by an unrestricted grant from Servier.