Don't let your heart catch you off guard, say experts

10 Apr 2023 09:13am
A consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist from KPJ Selangor Specialist Hospital, Dr Zulkifli Ismail says cases of heart disease among younger Malaysians, especially adult males, had been rising at an alarming rate in recent years, and this has caused serious concern among public health experts. -Agency pic
A consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist from KPJ Selangor Specialist Hospital, Dr Zulkifli Ismail says cases of heart disease among younger Malaysians, especially adult males, had been rising at an alarming rate in recent years, and this has caused serious concern among public health experts. -Agency pic
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KUALA LUMPUR - Airulmi Mokhtar has been a heavy smoker since he was a teenager. He is now in his mid-40’s and is now suffering the consequences of his unhealthy lifestyle behaviour.

He was diagnosed with Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) in 2020 due to the blockage of his heart blood vessels by almost 90 per cent. Earlier, he complained of having a heart attack twice during his running activities and was rushed to a private hospital to have the diagnosis confirmed.

"I admit that my lifestyle during my younger days was very unhealthy, starting as a heavy smoker due to the influence of my peers, plus the price of cigarettes was very cheap at that time, for example, a pack of 10 cigarettes was only about RM2. After graduating from Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2001, I worked as a production engineer in several factories in Kuala Lumpur for about ten years.

"Due to the hectic work nature, I developed hypertension; I often came home late at night and besides, I did not really take care of my diet and I seldom exercised. I used to consume high-cholesterol food such as fast food and often ate late at night. Finally, when I was diagnosed with CVD, I realised that I needed to change my lifestyle to ensure that I could continue to support my family,” he told Bernama when contacted, recently.

The 46-year old father of two, who is currently Head of Business Development at a Government-Linked Company (GLC) shared, after the recent coronary angioplasty and stent insertion inside his coronary artery to bypass the clogged parts of the arteries, he needs to consume four types of specific medicines for the rest of his life so that his heart can function optimally.

IN A SORRY STATE

A consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist from KPJ Selangor Specialist Hospital, Dr Zulkifli Ismail said cases of heart disease among younger Malaysians, especially adult males, had been rising at an alarming rate in recent years, and this has caused serious concern among public health experts.

"As children adopt more sedentary lifestyles with mobile phones and computers, and their diets consist of processed nutritionally unbalanced foods, the rate of obesity among children increases, even in rural areas. As we know, obese children become obese adults unless urgent intervention is instituted.
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"With rising obesity cases, there will be related co-morbidities like diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, and elevated cholesterol, among others,” he explained.

This trend is supported by a review of coronary artery disease research in Malaysia published in 2016, which shows that Malaysians are having Acute Cardiovascular Syndrome (ACS) between ages 55.9 and 59.1 years compared to people from more developed countries when they get diagnosed between 63.4 and 68 years. In general, Malaysia is also estimated to have 141 CVD-related cases for every 100,000 citizens.

AFFECTING NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Meanwhile, Consultant Cardiologist at the Faculty of Medicine, University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) Dr Nor Ashikin Md Sari said the fact that Malaysians develop CVD at a significantly younger age compared to the Western population is indeed alarming.

Consequently, it has created another serious concern, namely a magnified and more pronounced adverse impacts on the nation’s progress and development.

"The complications from CVD, which include deaths and disabilities result in huge economic burden and negative socio-economic impact. Deaths and disabilities in working-age patients particularly breadwinners have economic consequences at multiple levels: individual, household, government, and society as a whole.

"Some reports including by World Health Organisation (WHO) have highlighted that the annual costs of CVD care exceed health expenditure per capita in many low to middle-income countries,” she said, while noting that such a problem also raises concerns over the quality of care and the long term sustainability of health financing.

LET’S KEEP A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

To this, Dr Nor Ashikin advised the younger generation to maintain a healthy lifestyle as it is the cornerstone of heart disease prevention.

She said various studies of the population and large cohorts from various countries have consistently shown how individuals who had to adhere to healthy lifestyles significantly cut their risks of CVD adverse outcomes and all-cause mortality.

"Contemporary working life - which is fast-paced and stressful - is associated with unhealthy outcomes. For example, prolonged sitting in the office and in front of computers leads to low physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle. Time constraint due to work commitments leads to high consumption of unhealthy fast food.

"To address this concern, we need to jumpstart our healthy lifestyles for CVD prevention including non-smoking, high physical activity, a diet rich in vegetables and fruits with limited red meat intake, and, being non-obese with healthy body weight,” she said.

The introduction of the Tobacco and Smoking Products Control Bill 2022 by the government is another initiative that is highly laudable, she said, adding that public policies, legislation, and enforcement are prerequisites for any meaningful health measures at the national level.

She said the Bill can be the main force and catalyst for ending the tobacco epidemic, and in the process eliminating smoking as one of the top independent risk factors of heart disease in younger Malaysians.

"Together with strong policies and legislation, effective smoking cessation programmes are mandatory. Smoking cessation significantly reduces the risk of premature death and the risk of CVD by approximately 50 per cent within one year,” she added.

ENGAGING IN SCHOOL EDUCATION

Dr Zulkifli opined that consistent and robust campaigns and initiatives with a clear message on healthy lifestyle are also crucial, noting that focus should be on revising primary and secondary education of what a healthy lifestyle entails and how to achieve them.

"All of these efforts should include healthy lifestyle choices, physical activities, balanced nutrition and regular medical checkups, and health education. We have that window of opportunity to inculcate active lifestyles and healthy nutrition to future adults since Malaysia is projected to become an ageing nation come 2030,” he said.

There also needs to be a political commitment to push the agenda of having healthy adults resulting from well-educated children who have been taught about healthy lifestyle choices, he said.

In this respect, multiple approaches to healthy lifestyle promotions can be adopted to optimise exposure, reach, and efficacy which include utilising various media platforms including television and radio programmes as well as public engagements via social media, he added. -Bernama