A healthy heart prevents heart disease and offers a better quality of life.
Heart disease, which affects about 0.3 per cent of the population in Singapore, is a major cause of death. According to the Singapore Heart Foundation, one in three deaths is caused by heart disease and approximately 17 people die from such conditions daily. A healthy heart is important as not only does it provide the stamina needed for daily activities, it also reduces the risk of developing heart disease.
There are four common heart diseases in Singapore:
1) Coronary Heart Disease, which is a major cause of death and heart failure;
2) Hypertension, which can cause ischemic stroke (artery to brain blocked by blood clot or plaque) and haemorrhagic stroke (blood from artery bleeds into brain);
3) Atrial Fibrillation, a risk factor for ischemic stroke; and
4) Heart Failure, which causes recurrent admissions to hospital and is one of the major causes of death.
All four heart conditions also increase the risk of dementia. Individuals most at risk of heart diseases are those who smoke tobacco, live a sedentary life, and consume a high level of sugar, cholesterol and salt. An inactive lifestyle and poor diet increase the risk of diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidaemias and hypertension, which are all strong risk factors of heart disease and stroke. There is also evidence that lack of sleep and even sleep disorders like sleep apnea can increase the risk of heart disease, as well as hypertension and atrial fibrillation.
A lesser-known risk factor for heart disease is gum disease arising from poor dental hygiene. People with gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) have 2 to 3 times the risk of having a heart attack. While the cause and effect is not yet determined, it is suspected that gum disease increases the body’s burden of long-term (chronic) inflammation, which is a key contributor to atherosclerosis (plaque formation and accumulation in the heart vessels).
Family history and genetics play a part in our lifestyles. Genes determine our resistance or our susceptibility to risk factors for heart disease. However, this does not mean we should not adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. Accumulating heart or cardiac reserves* will make our heart more resilient.
Families also have a role to play in reducing heart disease. Families that observe good habits of eating healthily and working out regularly play a positive role in preventing heart disease. Children who see their parents make an effort to lead a healthy lifestyle are more likely to adopt a similar way of life.
Common symptoms of heart disease include shortness of breath, chest discomfort, upper-back or upper-abdomen discomfort, palpitations and dizziness. The first two symptoms are clear indicators that something is wrong if it occurs when the body is at rest with minimal exertion (eg., when sitting down) or when associated with nausea, vomiting, cold sweats or pallor. The symptoms can be subtle, which is conveniently dismissed as a sign of old age or poor fitness.
In general, the risk of heart disease in males tends to increase after the age of 40. For females, the risk increases about 5 years after menopause. The risk of developing other risk factors like hyperlipidemia (too many lipids -cholesterol and triglyceride– in the blood), hypertension and diabetes mellitus also starts to rise after the age of 35. However, if the symptoms listed above are present, a heart evaluation is a must, regardless of age.
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, work closely with your cardiologist to plan and achieve your treatment goals. It is also helpful to follow the recommendations listed in the sidebar. Whether heart health can be improved after diagnosis depends on when the patient was diagnosed. For example, heart target organ damage can potentially be reversed if hypertension is diagnosed early and if control of blood pressure is optimised at the initial stage.
*A measurement of the cardiac reserve may be a health indicator for some medical conditions.
Ways to keep your heart healthy
1. Stop smoking
Or do not start at all! It is one of the main causes of heart diseases, especially for those younger than 40.
- Eat and drink healthily
Moderate your intake of sugar, fats and salt and avoid trans fats and fried items. Eat more fruits, vegetables, dietary fibre and drink more water.
- Stay active
Sit up, stand and walk more, in addition to regular exercise. Aim to get 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week, which can be achieved with small steps like taking the stairs instead of the escalator or lift.
- Sleep well to live well
Make sleep a priority by getting 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep on most nights. Sleeping less than 6 hours a night increases the risk of stroke or heart attack.
- Good teeth, good heart
Good dental health can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Practise regular brushing and flossing, and make sure to schedule regular dental checks with your dentist.
- Get checked
Schedule regular checks with your cardiologist as preventive medicine. The check should also cover glucose and cholesterol levels and blood pressure. A review of symptoms can result in early treatment following diagnoses and prevent possible heart disease.
Dr Gerard Leong
Gerard Leong Cardiology Clinic
#05-05 Thomson Medical Centre
339 Thomson Road, Singapore 307677
T: 6717 0008