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Open Access Research article

A cross-sectional study of vascular risk factors in a rural South African population: data from the Southern African Stroke Prevention Initiative (SASPI)

Margaret Thorogood12*, Myles Connor23, Stephen Tollman2, Gillian Lewando Hundt1, Gerry Fowkes3 and Jennifer Marsh1

Author Affiliations

1 University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

2 University of the Witwatersrand, Parktown, Johannesburg, South Africa

3 University of Edinburgh, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, UK

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:326  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-326

Published: 13 November 2007

Abstract

Background

Rural sub-Saharan Africa is at an early stage of economic and health transition. It is predicted that the 21st century will see a serious added economic burden from non-communicable disease including vascular disease in low-income countries as they progress through the transition. The stage of vascular disease in a population is thought to result from the prevalence of vascular risk factors. Already hypertension and stroke are common in adults in sub-Saharan Africa. Using a multidisciplinary approach we aimed to assess the prevalence of several vascular risk factors in Agincourt, a rural demographic surveillance site in South Africa.

Methods

We performed a cross sectional random sample survey of adults aged over 35 in Agincourt (population ≈ 70 000). Participants were visited at home by a trained nurse who administered a questionnaire, carried out clinical measurements and took a blood sample. From this we assessed participants' history of vascular risk, blood pressure using an OMRON 705 CP monitor, waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), ankle brachial index (ABI), and total and HDL cholesterol.

Results

402 people (24% men) participated. There was a high prevalence of smoking in men, but the number of cigarettes smoked was small. There was a striking difference in mean BMI between men and women (22.8 kg/m2 versus 27.2 kg/m2), but levels of blood pressure were very similar. 43% of participants had a blood pressure greater than 140/90 or were on anti-hypertensive treatment and 37% of participants identified with measured high blood pressure were on pharmacological treatment. 12% of participants had an ABI of < 0.9, sugesting the presence of sub-clinical atheroma. 25.6% of participants had a total cholesterol level > 5 mmol/l.

Conclusion

We found a high prevalence of hypertension, obesity in women, and a suggestion of subclinical atheroma despite relatively favourable cholesterol levels in a rural South African population. South Africa is facing the challenge of an emerging epidemic of vascular disease. Research to establish the social determinates of these risk factors and interventions to reduce both individual and population risk are required.