A Look Into The Heart Of Cardiovascular Disease

The impact and significant health risks of Malaysia’s number one killer and how to help lower your risk.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7 – As one of the top causes of death among Malaysians, heart disease kills more people than road accidents. According to national statistics, 17 per cent of deaths in Malaysia are caused by ischemic heart disease.

Ischemic heart disease or coronary artery or heart disease is one of the most common forms of heart disease. It is caused by a build-up in arteries that provide the heart with blood that narrows and prevents the blood flow to the heart. 

Dr Ang Kai Ping, consultant in cardiology and internal medicine at Regency Specialist Hospital shares his insight on the prevalence of heart disease among Malaysians, its causes as well as advice and tips on how to manage and prevent the risk of heart disease. 

“When the build-up which is attributed to cholesterol deposits narrows the heart vessel and restricts blood flow, it can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, or a heart attack. However, most people would not know that they have it until they experience these symptoms. A heart attack damages heart muscles then begin to die especially if left untreated which can lead to heart failure for the patient,” he said.

Who Is At Risk Of Developing Heart Disease?

In Malaysia, the number of cardiovascular disease cases increases by 5 per cent every year, according to the National Heart Institute. There are 10,000 cases of cardiology and hypertension and 4,000 cases of heart surgery in one year.

The risk factors that contribute to heart disease include pre-existing risks as well as lifestyle-based risks. The pre-existing risk that is unavoidable include past family history (genetic), while a huge number of risk factors are lifestyle based can be managed, if some changes are made.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular disease accounts for 17.9 million non-communicable diseases (NCDs) deaths globally, almost 44 per cent of NCDs each year

“Anyone can develop heart disease but there are a few risk factors that can increase the risk of heart disease occurring. This includes existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, stress, unhealthy diet, and smoking,” said Dr Ang.

However, recent studies have shown a growing prevalence of Malaysians getting diagnosed with heart disease at a younger age than before. A recent study on a review of coronary artery disease in Malaysia showed that Malaysians are having Acute Cardiovascular Syndrome (ACS) between 55.9 and 59.1 years, compared to people from more developed countries who get diagnosed between 63.4 and 68 years 

“Once a patient has the first heart attack, patients have a higher risk for another heart event or a stroke regardless of age. One of my patients was only 26 years old when he had a heart attack due to a blockage in his heart. He underwent a cardiac angiography and recovered. However, the patient will likely need regular annual check-ups in addition to his lifestyle changes to prevent another heart attack from recurring throughout his lifetime,” shared Dr Ang.

Smoking, One Of The Most Concerning Risk Factors For Heart Disease Among Malaysians

Smoking has also been found to be a significant risk factor for ischemic or coronary heart disease compared to other risk factors. According to World Health Organization data, smoking determines 10 per cent of all cardiovascular diseases.  

“Smoking is a risk factor for a significant number of my patients with heart disease. Smoking cessation can also considerably help patients with heart disease to lower the risk of heart disease recurring,” said Dr Ang.

“In my clinical experience, one of my patients, a 58-year-old male who underwent an Intra-aortic Balloon Pump (IABP) procedure coronary angioplasty to treat his heart condition after a heart attack and was successful in quitting smoking during his recovery has since shown great results during his annual follow-ups and screening. His risk for a recurring heart disease event has also lowered.” 

With this worrying impact, the introduction of the Tobacco and Smoking Products Control Bill 2022 to prohibit smoking among the younger generation born on and after January 1, 2007, may play a significant role in helping to reduce this risk factor in the near future. 

How Can Malaysians Lower Their Risk Of Developing Heart Disease? 

There is also a need for educating the public on ways to prevent heart disease with changes to dietary habits and lifestyles have become more important than ever.

While some risk factors for heart disease are unavoidable, some lifestyle changes can help prevent or lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. This includes:

  • More physical activity can lower your risk of developing heart disease or improve outcomes for patients with existing heart disease in addition to reducing the risk of other comorbidities. Dr Ang recommends at least a half hour of physical activity, like walking every day, as a good starting point.
  • Maintaining a heathy diet that includes reducing your fat and sodium intake can help reduce your cardiovascular risk. Moderation is key, which includes more vegetables and moderate amounts of meat with less oil and salt. Dr Ang recommends that a diet with less oil and salt can make a difference.
  • Reducing or quitting smoking can lower your cardiovascular risk. As part of the recovery process for heart disease patients who are smokers, Dr Ang recommends quitting smoking or joining a smoking cessation programme which can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Stress has been found to play a role in cardiovascular risk. The World Heart Federation states that psychological stress can double the risk of having a heart attack. So, lowering your stress levels starting with more exercise, meditation, and getting enough quality sleep can lower your cardiovascular risk.

Apart from the lifestyle changes that can help lower cardiovascular risk, the first step that can be made to start to monitor or gauge heart health is to have a health screening exam that includes a heart risk assessment. 

“Early detection and treatment significantly reduces the risk of death due to heart disease. As a healthcare professional, a good starting point to help prevent the risk of heart disease is to get regular health screening. This enables your doctor to detect and monitor your risk factors and take steps to help prevent heart disease from the start,” added Dr Ang.

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