Facts about Heart Attack in Younger Malaysians

Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in Malaysia in which 1 in 5 heart attacks occur in young adults aged below 40. Think Gen Z are spared from heart diseases? Let’s find out the misconceptions.

by Calvyn Ee

Heart Attack Statistics in Malaysia

Heart disease is becoming a major health concern in the country. Recent studies indicate that 1 in 5 heart attacks that occur affect younger adults below the age of 40. Equally concerning is that a 2022 study found that young Malaysians aged 15–24 “had at least one cardiovascular risk factor.” It goes to show that not even young, healthy Malaysians are free of the risk of contracting heart disease.

Heart attacks are a medical emergency caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart muscle, which can lead to irreparable harm to your heart and impair its ability to pump blood to the rest of your body. This primarily happens due to a blockage in one or more of your arteries, or some other condition that affects the heart and/or blood vessels. If left untreated, it can cause permanent heart damage and can potentially lead to death.

Greater awareness is still needed to educate the public on the dangers of a heart attack and how they can be prevented through simple lifestyle changes.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Sometimes, symptoms of a heart attack vary greatly from person to person and even between men and women. Classical signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain/angina: Sometimes described as a feeling of tightness in the centre of the chest, or a very painful sensation. It may even spread to other parts of the body, such as the arms, shoulders, neck, and even jaw. It also can last for a few minutes, or come and go without warning. This is usually the most commonly reported symptom most people face before a heart attack.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue, lightheadedness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, and vomiting: These are usually associated with the most serious heart attacks.
  • Heartburn: Heart attacks can often be mistaken for this.
  • Breaking into cold sweat

On some occasions, the way men and women experience heart pain may also vary: men may experience indigestion-type pain and back pain, while women experience jaw pain, nausea, shortness of breath, or even fainting.

Heart attacks can happen without any warning. Other times, the warning signs appear way ahead in advance. It’s crucial that you quickly take note of any warning signs of a heart attack and contact emergency services immediately. The sooner it can be treated, the more likely you’ll save someone’s life.

Myths & Facts Surrounding Heart Attacks

It’s essential to debunk misconceptions surrounding heart disease and heart attacks. Here are some useful facts you should know about your heart health.

Young People Don’t Get Heart Attacks

As studies have already shown, young people are now at significant risk of getting a heart attack. Risk factors such as having a high cholesterol diet, frequent smoking or alcohol use, sedentary lifestyles, and compounding stress can all increase the likelihood of a heart attack. Plaque can slowly but steadily build up in your arteries from a young age before it eventually reaches a point where it can obstruct blood flow through the affected arteries.

In the past, young people having heart attacks was a rarity, if not unheard of. Given how lifestyles have vastly changed over the years, there are now many more risk factors that can lead to heart disease. One such risk factor is diabetes: young people with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of developing heart disease. Elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, among other factors, can all compromise heart health, including causing lasting damage to your blood vessels.

It’s important that young people lead more active lifestyles and have a more balanced diet. These steps aren’t necessarily enough, but they can still have profound effects in improving one’s overall health in the long term.

I Lead an Active Lifestyle, So I’m Safe

Exercise is an important component to improving heart health. Leading a sedentary lifestyle carries many risks, including blood clots, osteoporosis and obesity. As such, a regular exercise schedule can help to keep you fit and your heart strong. Like any other muscle, your heart also needs to stay in shape to function effectively; the more you exercise, the better your cardiovascular health gets, and the less likely you’ll be at risk of heart-related complications.

Aim to have at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise in a day, but if you can’t do that, even five minutes of physical activity can have health benefits. Pace yourself according to your capabilities, and slowly work your way up until you can comfortably do more.

However, exercise alone isn’t going to be enough. Having a family history of heart disease does still put you at risk, as does your age (men over 45 and women over 55 are at higher risk of a heart attack) and if you have other health complications. In order to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, it’s important to lead a healthier lifestyle by watching your diet, quitting smoking and/or drug use, reducing your alcohol intake, and getting better quality sleep. Be sure to also get regular heart screenings to ascertain your current heart health.

Heart Attacks and Cardiac Arrests are the Same

Contrary to popular belief, heart attacks and cardiac arrests are two completely different things. A heart attack occurs due to a blockage in your blood circulation, preventing the heart from getting a sufficient supply of blood; without any blood flow, the affected heart muscle will slowly die for as long as it remains untreated.

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood to the entire body and the person stops breathing normally. If the heart stops pumping for even a few minutes, many of your organs, such as the brain, can become irreversibly damaged. The person may also fall unconscious during a cardiac arrest. Few people survive a cardiac arrest, and many survivors are left with significant lasting effects.

Cardiac arrests can happen because of a heart attack. This is because a heart attack can cause a change in “the heart’s electrical activity” which causes cardiac arrest to occur.

Heart failure is another term that causes some confusion. Heart failure is a chronic condition where the pumping action of the heart is reduced, in some cases due to a heart attack.

Diabetics are Safe from Heart Attacks with Medication

If you or your loved one are a diabetic, your medication (and treatment) can help keep blood sugar levels at normal levels, and that ensures you protect yourself from other complications caused by diabetes symptoms: kidney disease, for example. However, you can still be at risk. Atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in and on the blood vessels, is one cause for concern concerning heart health, and that’s also a risk factor of diabetes.

Still, medication for your diabetes isn’t sufficient to protect you from heart attacks. Other overlapping risk factors are still a danger to your heart health, and you’ll need to take care of those as well. Healthy lifestyle changes are a good way to reduce your risk of heart-related complications.

Heart Attacks Happen Frequently in the Morning

Between 2003 to 2009, a study was conducted by researchers from the Hospital Clinico San Carlos and the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC), both from Spain. They wanted to find out if the time of day “affected the severity of damage caused by a [specific] type of heart attack,” with a sample size of 811 patients. The research team divided the 24-hour clock “into four equal periods;” when a patient has a heart attack, that time of day would fall into one of these four categories.

The study was quite enlightening: it found that heart damage in “patients who had a heart attack between 6am and noon” was “significantly larger” than the other periods. However, it’s still not fully understood as to why this happens; one hypothesis suggests it’s “due to natural changes in the body during the 24-hour period,” such as changes in blood pressure levels.

Another theory points to a protein in the bloodstream called PA1 that prevents clots from dissolving. A separate study found that participants had “higher levels of PA1 around 6:30 a.m.,” greatly increasing the risk of clot formation. As time passed, PA1 levels of these participants returned to normal levels. This, however, remains a theory.

The study did have a few limitations, with notable ones including:

  • Survivor bias: specifically, data is mainly collected from patients who are still alive, while missing data from those who died from a heart attack
  • No direct analysis of heart damage sustained after a heart attack
  • Some patients may receive treatment earlier than others depending on the time of day

There has been little in the way of follow-up studies since the initial study, so it’s hard to say how true it is. Ultimately, though, the important bottom line is that the sooner someone is treated for heart attack symptoms, the less damage their heart will sustain, regardless of the time of day.

After Effects of a Heart Attack

Besides the exhaustion and reduced appetite, some people may experience occasional chest pain or discomfort from time to time. These may be due to irregular heart rhythms, or arrhythmia. Arrhythmia may be life-threatening if not carefully monitored, as it can prevent the body from receiving sufficient oxygenated blood. If anything feels out of the ordinary, such as more frequent chest pains, be sure to notify your doctor immediately.

In other serious cases, scar tissue that remains after a heart attack can also weaken your heart, preventing it from pumping sufficient blood to the entire body. A weakened heart can lead to heart failure, which can cause even more problems. In fact, medical science has determined that heart failure is a “frequent complication of a heart attack.”

There’s also a possibility of a heart rupture, where weakened heart tissue tears or breaks. This causes blood to flood the lungs or into the chest, which can then cause very rapid heartbeats, shortness of breath, respiratory failure, or even cardiac arrest. Immediate medical treatment is needed as heart ruptures have a high mortality rate.

Cardiac rehabilitation aims to help you overcome these health complications and return you to normalcy, so work closely with the medical professionals and your recovery will proceed smoothly. Be sure not to rush the process or you could end up hurting yourself even more. And make sure not to miss follow-up appointments or medication timings to ensure your heart is in a healthy shape.

Life (and Life Expectancy) After a Heart Attack

Recovering a heart attack can depend on the severity of damage your heart has sustained and how quickly it was treated. As we’ve mentioned, early treatment when a heart attack occurs results in far better health outcomes. Recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

You might find that you feel a lot more exhausted than usual and your appetite might shrink, among other symptoms. These are normal things you’ll experience as you slowly recover and things will slowly improve. You’ll be enrolled in a cardiac rehabilitation program that aims to track your condition and help you with the recovery process. Various heart-healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise routines and dietary modifications, will also be recommended throughout the process, keeping pace with your physical (and emotional) health.

Cardiac rehabilitation can continue even after you’re discharged to make sure you’re on the right track. You’ll frequently have follow-up sessions with your doctors to assess your health situation while the doctors make further recommendations on what you can do to greatly improve your health. Mitigating risk factors through a heart-healthy lifestyle is your best bet to living a long and fruitful life.

In time, your state of health will return to normal levels before your heart attack. Make sure you follow your doctor’s advice and keep up with whatever lifestyle changes you’ve been recommended.

The Importance of Preventive Measures

Taking care of your heart health is the best way to protect yourself from a heart attack. It’s estimated that 20 percent of adults above the age of 45 are likely to have a second heart attack five years after the first one. You’ll want to make sure you take good care of yourself to prevent a future heart attack from causing further harm to your heart.

Remember to practise the following:

  • Adopt healthier habits, such as quitting smoking
  • Eat less sodium, sugars, and fatty foods; have more fibre, low-fat proteins, and other healthy options
  • Have smaller portions
  • Stay active as often as possible
  • Stay hydrated at all times
  • Reduce your alcohol intake
  • Manage your stress; get help from family or professional counsellors if you need it
  • Don’t miss follow-up checks
  • Take your medications as per the doctor’s recommendations

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

One common misconception is that quitting smoking won’t change your risk level of developing heart disease; this is actually not true. By quitting smoking, you’re already on the right track: within a year, you reduce your risk of a heart attack by as much as 50 percent! And in the ten years after that, it’ll be as if you’ve never smoked in your life.

If you have a hard time quitting, consider getting help. You might want to think about enrolling in a program to help you with quitting or making use of clinically approved stop-smoking aids, such as nicotine patches. It isn’t too late to turn things around for the better, after all.

Caregiving for Someone Recovering from a Heart Attack

If you need assistance with looking after someone recuperating from a heart attack, we’re here to help. Our Care Pros are professionally trained to help you or your loved one with their recovery process, be it as simple as providing companionship at home or even administering medication at specific times. They can even help you or your loved one with going to appointments and then return home. Our Care Pros will be there to help every step of the way.

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About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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