Know the Characteristics of Heart Disease

By Island Hospital   |   Oct 11, 2019 5:11:18 PM

You are at the dinner table with your family enjoying a nice meal. Suddenly, you feel a sharp pain piercing through your chest and begin to break into a cold sweat. In the midst of it all, you wonder to yourself, “Am I showing signs of a heart disease?”

Also known as cardiovascular disease (CVD), heart disease has long been deemed as the number one cause of deaths globally, with over three-quarters occurring in low and middle income countries. Heart disease is commonly defined as conditions that cause the blood vessels to become narrow or blocked, or adversely affect the heart’s muscles, valves, and rhythm.

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
    Among all heart diseases, this is one of the most common types that occur in individuals. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by blockages in the coronary arteries due to plaque deposits which contain cholesterol. This results in the narrowing of the coronary arteries, preventing oxygen-rich blood and nutrients from reaching the heart.
  • Heart arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats)
    This condition takes place when the heart does not beat at a normal rhythm, it either beats too quickly (tachycardia) or too slowly (bradycardia). The reason for arrhythmias is due to electrical impulses in the heart being unable to coordinate the heartbeat properly. While everyone occasionally experiences irregular heartbeats, recurring arrhythmias can become fatal if left untreated.
  • Congenital heart disease
    Those born with heart defects are known to have congenital heart disease, where it comes in many forms such as having a hole between two of the heart’s chambers (commonly known as a “hole in the heart”), a narrower aorta and pulmonary valve, or an underdeveloped heart. More often than not, surgical procedures are usually performed as a way to prevent serious complications from occurring in the future.    
  • Congestive heart failure
    Contrary to common belief, congestive heart failure does not mean that the heart has completely stopped functioning; rather, it is at a stage where it has been thoroughly weakened and is unable to pump blood throughout the body efficiently, thus making simple tasks like climbing the stairs a strenuous affair for those suffering from this condition.

Heart disease often results in fatalities as many fail to recognise and quickly address the symptoms when it appears. As such, it is important to know the warning signs of heart disease in order to save someone’s life or yours.

Some symptoms of heart disease include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms and legs
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Excessive sweating

If you notice these symptoms in yourself or a family member, consult a doctor and seek medical attention immediately.

While not all may suffer from heart disease, there are several factors which can increase one’s likelihood of developing it as listed below:

  • Age As you grow older, your heart muscles and arteries gradually thicken and become weaker in the process, making it less able to pump blood efficiently.
  • Gender While men are usually at a higher risk for heart disease, women’s risk tend to increase after menopause
  • Family history If you have a family member who suffers from heart disease before the age of 55 (for male relatives) or 65 (for female relatives), it can be said that you have a much higher chance of contracting heart disease.
  • Smoking It has been well documented that smoking is one of the leading causes of heart disease and happens more in smokers than non-smokers. Its main ingredient (nicotine) constricts blood vessels, while carbon monoxide damages the heart’s inner linings, thus causing the heart to pump harder than usual. Pregnant mothers who smoke also put their unborn children at risk of contracting congenital heart disease.
  • Poor dietary habits A diet rich in fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol can prove to be a deadly recipe in developing heart disease as it contributes to the clogging of the heart’s arteries.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity The lack of exercise combined with severe obesity is one of the most lethal causes of heart disease as excess weight can take a toll on the heart in producing and transporting oxygen-filled blood for the entire body.
  • Stress Multiple studies have suggested that stress is one of the contributing factors of heart disease as it increases your blood pressure and may cause one to overeat, abuse drugs, or consume alcohol excessively – activities that will further heighten the risk for heart disease.

Even though there is no known cure for heart disease, the good news is that it can be prevented by taking steps in practicing a healthy lifestyle. Here are several ways of lowering your risk for heart disease:

  • Do not smoke or use tobacco Smoking has been well known to be the main contributing factor to heart disease as it “chokes” blood vessels of much needed oxygen, increasing blood pressure as the heart is forced to work way beyond its limits. Even if you are a non-smoker, inhaling secondhand smoke can also increase your chances of heart disease by 25% - 30%. Take proactive steps to slowly quit smoking or avoid places that have high amounts of secondhand smoke. Once you have made an effort to do so, your risk for heart disease lowers as well.
  • Be physically active Not all may relish the idea of sweating it out for an hour at the gym every single day. However, it does not have to be this way. Moderate exercise such as brisk walking for at least 30 minutes per day can greatly strengthen your heart and keep heart disease at bay. If you find this daunting, you can split it into three 10-minute sessions and still reap the benefits.
  • Practice a healthy diet Most heart disease can be traced back to one’s eating habits as it also has a hand in determining your chances in contracting it. Avoid foods high in trans fat, saturated fats, and sodium (e.g. red meat, deep-fried foods, coconut oil, packaged snacks etc.). Instead, replace it with healthy fats from plant-based products like avocados, nuts, and olive oil as it helps in lowering bad cholesterol. Incorporate more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish into your diet which can aid in protecting your heart. Also, keep a watchful eye on the amount of alcohol you consume as it can be a potential health hazard.
  • Maintain a healthy weight Aside from heart disease, being overweight can bring about a host of unwanted ailments such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, thus adding to the toll on your heart. To protect your heart from these diseases, constantly measure and keep track of your weight with tools like the body mass index (BMI), which tells you whether you are at a higher risk for heart disease based on your height and weight.
  • Get enough sleep This may seem insignificant to most people, but did you know that the lack of sleep can lead to a higher risk of heart disease? The recommended hours of sleep for adults is seven to nine hours, and failing to do so may result in serious health problems other than just yawning constantly. Set a sleep schedule for yourself and make a point to stick to it. If you still find yourself feeling tired after a full night’s rest, consult your doctor for further evaluation.
  • Manage stress Stress is an unavoidable part of life as there will be situations which may cause us to be irritated or anxious. If you have a stressful lifestyle, find ways to reduce it by doing certain activities like meditation, exercise, or listening to soothing music.
  • Have regular health screenings Heart disease is often called a “silent killer” as it usually will not rear its ugly head until it is too late. As such, it is important for you to have regular checkups for blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, especially if you have a family history of these diseases.

By making an effort to keep your heart healthy, you will be able to live a happy and fulfilling life without worrying about the diseases that threaten to disrupt your daily activities.  

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Dato' Dr. Basheer Ahamed Abdul Kareem (BCN, DSPN)

Cardiothoracic Surgery
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Dr. Chiew Kean Shyong

Internal Medicine/Cardiology
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Dr. Chong Chu Ling (SMJ)

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Dr. Donald Ang Swee Cheng

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Dr.Yeoh Joon Kuan

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