Never too young for heart screening

An increasing number of young people have been affected by heart disease.

PETALING JAYA: Cardiologists are advising the public to get screened early for heart disease, the No 1 cause of death in Malaysia for the past 14 years.

While heart disease has traditionally been more prevalent in those aged 50 and above, an increasing number of patients in their 30s have been affected by it in the last five years, a trend which cardiologists say is likely due to unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles and smoking.

Dr Azmee Mohd Ghazi

Speaking to FMT in conjunction with World Heart Day today, Dr Azmee Mohd Ghazi, a consultant cardiologist at the National Heart Institute (IJN), said early detection for heart disease will ensure it is treated before conditions worsen.

Stating that patients with risk factors include those with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, Azmee warned that those with known heart and cerebrovascular disease are at high risk of complications and death if infected by Covid-19.

Dr Wong Teck Wee, who treated SARS patients while working in Singapore in 2003, said many sudden death cases showed no previous symptoms.

“It’s a silent disease,” said Wong, the president of the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society and a consultant cardiologist at iHEAL Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

“People may have symptoms such as chest pain or breathlessness but think it’s a normal part of the ageing process.”

Dr Wong Teck Wee.

He advised the public to get screened for heart disease if they have any, or a combination, of the following symptoms: Chest pain which worsens with exertion, breathlessness, heart palpitations, giddiness, nausea or cold sweats.

Noting several recent cases of hikers in Penang who passed away while hiking, Wong recommended those above 40 be screened for heart disease, especially if they are starting a new exercise programme.

A total of 18,267 people – or 50 a day – died of heart disease in 2018, making up 15.6% of total deaths in the country that year.

Dr Yap Swee Hien.

Emerging international research has shown that people with heart disease face more complications and are at a higher risk of death from Covid-19, which has claimed 134 lives in Malaysia so far.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah previously said 75% of the fatalities from the deadly virus were patients who had diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, a statistic which has not been lost on cardiologist Dr Yap Swee Hien.

“Covid-19 patients with underlying pre-existing conditions tend to have more serious cardiovascular complications,” said Yap, a consultant cardiologist at Prince Court Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

“With those patients, the mortality rate is as high as 8% to 10% as opposed to just 1% for patients who had no health issues prior to getting Covid-19.”