PETALING JAYA: Cardiovascular diseases continue to be prominent contributors to the nation’s mortality rates. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, ischaemic heart disease ranks as the second most prevalent cause of death, accounting for 13.7% as of 2022.
Ischaemic heart disease, also referred to as coronary artery disease, is caused by narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. This can result in a significant reduction of blood flow, potentially causing a heart attack, and in turn, resulting in lasting damage to the heart muscle.
The situation is even more alarming as heart disease not only affects older people, but younger adults as well.
Cardiologist Dr Mohd Al-Baqlish Mohd Firdaus at Pantai Hospital Ayer Keroh says that coronary artery disease was traditionally linked to individuals aged 40 and above but unfortunately, a recent shift now sees a growing number of people under the age of 40 also being diagnosed with this condition. This trend shows an annual increase of approximately 2%.
Besides coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease and cardiac arrhythmias are other common heart diseases in Malaysia.
Causes and risk factors that lead to heart disease
Al-Baqlish believes that smoking, physical inactivity, consumption of unhealthy food and childhood obesity are primary causes of heart disease in younger people.
He also highlighted other factors such as the rise of diabetes in young people causing metabolic challenges and hypertension resulting in a linear link to affecting body mass index.
Further risks include exposure to environments filled with tobacco usage, genetic factors, childhood obesity and illicit substance abuse such as marijuana.
Symptoms that must be addressed
Usual symptoms of ischaemic heart disease include discomfort in the centre of the chest as well as difficulty breathing while engaging in physical tasks or exertion. Occasionally, this discomfort may also be sensed in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back.
Al-Baqlish explains that the symptoms of heart disease among young people do not differ from those of older adults. Unfortunately, younger people are more likely to disregard these symptoms, causing their condition to worsen.
“Young people tend to ignore these symptoms and typically present late with complications. Angiographic findings also reveal a higher incidence of single vessel disease among young patients than three-vessel diseases.
“Young adults often fail to realise the risk factors of heart disease, and as a result, they are only diagnosed when they present with coronary artery disease,” he said.
His advice is that young adults with a strong family history of heart disease go for regular health screening. Among these tests are risk stratification using a CT-calcium score and CT-coronary angiogram.
There are hospitals in Malaysia equipped with state-of-the-art 640-slice CT scan machines which offer high-definition images with reduced radiation in a shorter time span.
Al-Baqlish stresses the need for young Malaysians to adopt a healthy lifestyle as he believes that younger people are generally more complacent and less likely to follow up on their check-ups.
He strongly advised young people to avoid smoking, practise eating healthily and exercise more; and to take care of their body weight as losing even a single kilo can greatly reduce their risk of developing heart diseases.
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