The risk for cardiovascular disease following traumatic spinal cord injuries in the Cape Metropolitan in South Africa
Naidoo, Marc Anton
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Given the devastating and debilitating impact of spinal cord injuries (SCI) globally and the effects on any population, its impact extends far beyond just the victim to people and institutions surrounding them and supporting them post-injury. Of growing concern is the increased risk that individuals with SCI have been seen to have a three-fold greater risk of developing cardio-vascular disease (CVD) than their able-bodied counterparts. Prevention strategies to curtail the onset of CVD in the SCI population is limited, and often developed for individuals from developed countries. The overall aim of this study was to assess and explore the need to implement CVD prevention programmes in a regional South African population with individuals after sustaining a traumatic spinal cord injury (TSCI). The study employed a mixed methods approach and was conducted in four (4) phases. Permission and ethics clearance were obtained from the Research Ethics Committee at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the Western Cape Department of Health. Phase One of the study utilized a questionnaire to collect TSCI incidence data of which 108 of the eligible 132 cases consented to take part in the study. The demographic findings of this study indicated that a person sustaining a TSCI in the Cape Metropolitan area in South Africa is most likely to be a male, young (20 to 29 years of age), from a Black African or Coloured race group and living in the Cape Flats suburbs. The male to female ratio was 6.2:1. The main cause of TSCI was assault at 58.33% (n=63) with males accounting for the majority of cases (88.89%, n=65). According to the AIS classification, ASIA A and D were the most common classification seen in 38.89% (n=42) and 39.81% (n=43) of the cohort respectively. Phase Two utilized a questionnaire and looked at CVD risk factors of the original cohort. A large portion of the cohort was engaged in high-risk behaviours, i.e. smoking and alcohol consumption. A low number of individuals reported a baseline history of hypertension diagnosis prior to their TSCI (5.56%, n=6). Phase Three of the study emplored semi-structured interviews and a focus group discussion to explore the experiences of persons with a TSCI regarding their ability to be physically active once reintegrated back into the community. Despite understanding the associated benefits of physical activity, several barriers to being physically active were reported; factors within their homes, access within their community, and transportation. The present study’s findings illustrated a growing concern among the SCI population for increased risk for developing CVD due to decreased physical activity. Phase Four of the study utilised a scoping review to identify CVD prevention programmes for individuals with a TSCI. Physical activity has been shown to have numerous health benefits of which reducing the risk of CVD is one. Engaging in physical activity, whether it be structured, unstructred or through a sporting activity can play a major role in combating the onset of CVD. Other tools used in reducing the onset of CVD were seen to be self-management strategies of which contrayer views were seen both for and against their use. Conclusion: Better education during the rehabilitation phase might be a key component to individuals with TSCI injury making more informed decisions about prioritising physical activity as they attempt to reintegrate back into their respective communities. The removal of socio-environmental barriers could allow motivated TSCI individuals better access to choosing how to increase their physical activity levels.