1 June 2021
By Bonnie Munday

Heart disease: How to spot the signs and reduce your risk



Heart disease has been ranked the leading cause of death in Malaysia, with almost one in every four deaths are due to heart disease. Being diagnosed with heart problems can be distressing, but you need to know that it is preventable and manageable.

So, if you are worried about your risks of heart disease? Here are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about the risk factors and signs of the heart disease.
4 common types of heart disease

Heart disease includes a long list of conditions. The four common symptoms of coronary heart disease include:
1. Angina
Angina or angina pectoris happens when your heart doesn't get as much blood as it needs because of a blockage of one or more of the heart's arteries. It causes pain in the chest in the form of a squeezing, suffocating or burning feeling.

Angina is not a heart attack however having angina does mean you have an increased risk of having a heart attack, cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death.
2. Arrhythmia (Heart Rhythm Disorders)
A Heart Rhythm Disorder is an abnormal variation from the normal heartbeat – either faster (tachycardia) or slower (bradycardia) than the typical 60-80 beats per minute.

There are many types of arrhythmias. Some have no symptoms or warning signs, some are not very serious and others may be life threatening. Symptoms vary from person to person.
3. Heart attack
A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart is severely reduced or stopped because of a blockage.

The narrowing of coronary arteries due to the buildup of plaque (a combination of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium and blood-clotting material) causes more than 90% of heart attacks.

The length of time the blood supply is cut off will determine the amount of damage done to the heart.

Read more about Heart  â€‹Attack Management by IJN

4. Cardiac arrest
Cardiac arrest commonly occurs in people who have had previous heart attacks, but it may occur as the first symptom of heart disease. This is not the same thing as a heart attack, though the terms are often (and incorrectly) used interchangeably.

A heart attack is a circulation problem; cardiac arrest is a problem that occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops functioning.

It can be caused by abnormal heart rhythms such as ventricular fibrillation. But it can also be triggered by a variety of factors including:
  • coronary heart disease,
  • a heart attack,
  • congenital heart disease,
  • electrocution or
  • recreational drug use.
Heart attack warning signs

Not all heart attacks are alike. Some common warning signs include things like:
  • Chest discomfort (uncomfortable chest pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning or heaviness)
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body (such as neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, back)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness

Heart attack symptoms: Are they different for men and women?

Heart disease affects both men and women, but not always in the same way.

According to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 1 a total of 16,325 people in Malaysia died last year from ischaemic heart disease. This comprised 69.4% men and 30.6% women.

Female hormones offer some protection against heart disease, but that advantage disappears after menopause.

The signs of a heart attack may be less defined in women, for example women may experience:
  • fatigue,
  • difficulty sleeping,
  • shortness of breath,
  • chest tightness,
  • burning in the chest that feels like heartburn,
  • unusual anxiety,
  • cold sweats or
  • dizziness

Heart attack risk factors

Usually, the risk factors for heart disease involve:
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • A family history of heart attack
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Stress

What you can do to prevent heart disease

Remember that it’s never too late to make lifestyle changes that promote heart health. Start by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and cutting back on foods that offer little nutritional value.

Exercise regularly, whether it’s a long daily walk or an at-home workout three times a week. Don’t smoke to keep your heart healthy.

And, what’s most important: Talk to your doctor about your risk of heart disease and what you can do to reduce it.

You may also be able to reduce your financial risk, should heart disease strike. One of the simplest ways is to attach a medical rider to your insurance plan as an add-on coverage for your healthcare needs.

Talk to an advisor to learn more about how insurance can help you. Find an advisor today.

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