A DIFFERENT KIND OF HEARTBREAK
Statistics show that there is a steady increase in the number of incidences of heart attacks and heart failures among adults below 55 years of age.
Why younger people are having heart attacks.
Look up information on heart attacks and you’ll notice that the risk factor rises sharply with age, with women aged 55 years and above most at risk (for men, it’s 45 and above). Now, however, younger people are increasingly noticing something wrong with their heart. “In the last five years or so, I’ve seen an emerging trend in cardiovascular diseases in the younger population. Previously with heart attacks, we’ve only seen it happen with patients who are 55 years and above,” says Dr Yap Swee Hien.
QWhat are the causes of heart attacks among younger adults in Malaysia?
“One of the major factors contributing to this is an unhealthy diet, with easy access to fast food. Another major contribution to the rise in incidences is smoking. We are seeing more young people who smoke. A sedentary lifestyle is also one of the contributing factors, as more young people are not exercising or doing enough of it. That said, the awareness of coronary artery disease among this age group has significantly improved due to easy access to information via the internet. More health-conscious adults are attending yearly health screenings.”
The symptoms of coronary artery disease are chest pains, usually left-sided or central, that’s aggravated by movement or exercise.
QWhat are the symptoms of coronary artery disease that leads to heart attack?
“The symptoms of coronary artery disease are chest pains, usually leftsided or central, that’s aggravated by movement or exercise. The pain may radiate to the left forearm and left upper-jaw region. It’s also associated with perspiration and nausea.”
QCould you provide an example of a case study that illustrates the incidence of heart attacks in younger patients?
“A 42-year-old gentleman with no known medical illness came to see me some time ago for a cardiac health screening. He didn’t have any symptoms and played badminton regularly. However, he was a heavy smoker and had been smoking since he was 16 years old. We performed an exercise stress test and detected evidence of reduced blood supply to the heart. Hence, I counselled him to undergo a coronary angiography, a procedure to assess his coronary arteries. He was hesitant initially as he claimed to be symptom-free and had been feeling well.
After much convincing, he finally agreed to do it and what we found was that he had a severe narrowing in one of his main coronary arteries. Coronary angioplasty, a procedure to relieve the narrowing of the coronary artery by ballooning and stent implantation, was performed. While shocked about his angiographic finding, he was relieved that the procedure was able to unblock the artery.
The severity of the situation was that had he not undergone the cardiac health screening, he may have had a heart attack leading to sudden death – especially during strenuous activity such as when playing badminton.”
QWhat are some of the diagnostic tests that you would do to investigate heart conditions?
“There are a few tests that we conduct. The first is the electrocardiography to assess the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity. Another important investigation is echocardiography, which is an ultrasound of the heart that helps us discover its structure and function. As for assessing the coronary arteries or blood supply to the heart, one of the commonest methods is the exercise stress test, where the patient runs on a treadmill. We monitor the ECG to look for evidence of a lack of blood supply to the heart as the patient exercises. Other modalities of investigation include CT and MRI scans of the heart, as well as coronary angiography.”
QWhat is your advice for preventing cardiovascular diseases in younger adults?
“Prevention is better than cure. The first thing is your diet – it’s important to eat healthily. The second is exercise. I understand that for young adults, schedules can be tight due to work. But it is important to prioritise health and exercise. The third is smoking. For those who have not started, please do not and for those who have been smoking, please consider quitting. It has tremendous side effects that not only affect your heart, but also increases your risk for cancers and lung disease. And the final thing is just to have regular check-ups or health screenings with medical professionals.”
Dr Yap Swee Hien, consultant interventional cardiologist, Prince Court Medical Centre