Dr Chong Yoon Sin, a Consultant Cardiologist at ParkCity Medical Centre highlights the effects of heart disease and the importance of its prevention.
Heart disease has long been acknowledged as a silent killer in Malaysia, affecting a large number of the population each year. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, heart disease is the main cause of death among Malaysians and has remained so for the past fifteen years. In 2019, 16,325 victims of heart attack made up 15 per cent of medically certified deaths. Furthermore, the onset age for heart disease has also alarmingly lowered in recent years, with the disease being the leading cause of death for people aged between 15 and 64 years old.
Although there are many ways in recent years to catch heart disease quickly and ample treatment options available for patients, the adage “prevention is better than cure” holds true for the disease.
Understanding Heart Disease
Ischemic heart disease, also called coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease (CAD), is the term given to heart problems caused by narrowed coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is severely reduced or stopped. This occurs when one of the coronary arteries is blocked by an obstruction, such as a blood clot that has formed on plaque due to atherosclerosis.
When the blood supply is cut off drastically or for a long time, the heart’s muscle cells suffer irreversible injury and die, causing disability or death to the patient depending on how much of the heart muscle is damaged.
“Sometimes, a coronary artery also temporarily contracts and goes into spasm, causing it to narrow and decrease or stop the blood flow to part of the heart muscle. The spasm can occur in blood vessels blocked by atherosclerosis or regular blood vessel, and when severe causes heart attack,” says Dr Chong.
Effects of Heart Disease
It is important to know the warning signs of a heart attack: chest pain, breathing difficulty, profuse sweating, giddiness, epigastric pain, and loss of consciousness. If you notice yourself or someone around you experience these symptoms, it is important to immediately rush to the hospital for treatment.
“Upon treatment, recovering after a cardiac arrest is a process that requires patients to be committed to avoid a repeat of the incident. Most of the time, after a heart attack, there will be some degree of muscle damage. If the damage sustained by the heart is small, patients will be able to return to an almost normal life except for a stricter diet and medication. However, if the damage is significant, the heart will be weak, causing patients unable to exert themselves as much as they were able to before. Other effects even include breathlessness and inability to drink a lot of water immediately,” explains Dr Chong.
Preventing Heart Disease
In Malaysia, heart disease is proven to be caused by the sedentary lifestyle led by a large portion of the population. In addition, Malaysians are also prone to various heart disease risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Many scientific studies show that certain characteristics increase the risk of coronary heart disease, with the four major modifiable risk factors being smoking, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and physical inactivity. It is crucial that people control their modifiable risk factors to keep heart disease at bay. Furthermore, if you experience chest pain continuously even if you practise a healthy lifestyle, it is vital that you pay a visit to the doctor.
“Nowadays we’re seeing patients in their 30s with heart disease due to their lifestyle practices. That’s why I always emphasise on the importance of early detection by going for screenings especially if you have lifestyle or genetic risk factors. It is also important to lead a healthy lifestyle by always exercising at least 30 minutes every day, not smoking, practising a healthier diet by eating more vegetables, fruits, lean meat, fish, beans and so on. Also, cut down on high-fat food, always stay hydrated, and manage your stress better. Once you practise a healthy lifestyle and go for screenings consistently, you will be fine,” assures Dr Chong.