We’re often told that regular exercise is great for our health – particularly in preventing major diseases like heart disease. But does that mean if you’re fit and active, you don’t need to worry about ever getting heart disease?
While exercise is certainly helpful, nobody is off the hook completely, says Dr. Ahmad Fazli Abdul Aziz, Consultant Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist at KPJ Selangor Specialist Hospital.
I’m afraid I’ve been seeing it more in recent years – heart disease is no longer a disease of the old-aged, unfit and overweight, it is now a disease of the young, fit and healthy too so we must keep a
Extremely tired, swelling feet, dizzy, lightheaded, sweating, and nausea are some of the ‘hints’.
Concurring to this, Dr. Fazli explains, “A lot of patients kind of blow this off assuming it’s nothing and that they will feel better, but in reality, it could be a sign of heart problems.
Family history is key
Heart diseases remained Malaysia’s number one killer and based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, 1.7 million Malaysians are currently living with the three major risk factors – diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Deaths from the disease increase every year, and it is the leading cause of ‘sudden death’ in Malaysia.
There are lots of factors involved and genetics and lifestyle factors are both important being aware of your family history is vital. This means you can get things checked out as a matter of routine or ‘just in case’, rather than waiting for problems to present.
Is it still worth doing exercise then?
“Absolutely yes,” says Dr. Ahmad Fazli. This isn’t about saying there is no point bothering with being fit and keeping up a healthy lifestyle if you still can have heart disease. But remember, being fit doesn’t offset other major risk factors”. Undoubtedly exercise does show benefits for heart health, but moderate to severe exercise without knowing any underlying cardiac condition is not good. “Every medicine is a poison if given at the wrong time and wrong dose, same is the case with exercise. Certain exercises in a normal person also can increase the risk in the presence of certain abnormalities. It can prove to be fatal at times”.
Hence, it is important to get yourself evaluated before you take up heavy exercise. There are certain categories of people for whom exercising can precipitate heart attacks. The issue of non-detection of heart ailments is a very serious one.
‘Looking’ fit and healthy doesn’t mean you are
Weight often crops up in discussions around disease risk and heart health. It can be a useful indicator and obesity is generally associated with increased disease risk. But Dr. Ahmad Fazli stresses that when it comes to cardiovascular disease, the outside doesn’t always match the inside: “A healthy diet is important, but not all overweight people have heart disease and high cholesterol and health problems, and not all of those who seem slim and fit on the surface have healthy hearts”.
Regular screening is important
Walking around not knowing if your heart is on the verge of an attack is unsettling. Incidentally, by the time symptoms of heart problems start to appear, the disease sometimes is already in an advanced stage. Symptoms of a heart attack include chest discomfort which may be associated with jaw, neck, or arm discomfort, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or sweating. By the time these happen, heart muscle damage had already occurred.
Not uncommonly we see patients who presented with heart attacks who had no prior symptoms preceding the event. Some had unrecognized diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. These risk factors are common without symptoms and thus can only be detected by early screening.
Periodic screening tests are needed to find out problems at an early stage, so that proper treatment may be given before significant damage to the heart happens. Common screening tests are ECG, echocardiogram, stress test, and CT scan. Cardiac screening tests are advisable once a year or once in 2 years after the age of 40 in the general population or after the age of 30 in the high-risk population’, he explains.
I would suggest everyone do regular health checkups and know what is going on inside their body and let us give suggestions, instead of you being your own master.