Cardiovascular Disease On The Rise Among Young Malaysians: A Cause For Concern

Dr Mohd Al-Baqlish Mohd Firdaus cardiologist Pantai Hospital Ayer Keroh

Data shows that Malaysians are getting cardiovascular disease (CVD) approximately ten years earlier than the global average.

The Malaysian National Heart Association published a position paper recently and found that the relative age of Malaysians with heart disease was lower when compared to other countries. 

In 2019, almost 1 in 4 (24.5%) of CVD patients were younger than 50 years old. The mean age of CVD patients in Malaysia was 56-59 years old compared to 63-68 years old in advanced nations. 

This worrying trend has also been observed globally in a 2022 study, which showed a 30% increase in myocardial infarction (heart attack) related deaths among patients aged 25-44. In fact, the rate of heart attacks for women aged 35 to 54 was on the rise when observed over a 20 year period.

Understanding CVD

CVD is an umbrella term encompassing disorders of the heart and blood vessels, including , among other conditions. 

According to the Malaysian Department of Statistics, CAD was the second most prevalent cause of death in 2022 (13.7%). CAD is projected to cause 23.6 million worldwide deaths annually by 2030. It is linked to the collection of fatty deposits in the arteries and an increased risk of blood clot formation, which leads to the narrowing of said blood vessels.

The narrowing of arteries supplying the heart leads to reduced blood flow to the heart muscles, ultimately causing damage or even death of the heart muscles ( heart attack). 

Risk Factors for CVD

The risk of developing CVD varies between individuals. Some risk factors can be modified by adopting a healthier lifestyle, while some risk factors are set in our genes. Some major risk factors for CVD include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Overweight/ Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history of CVD in first degree relatives diagnosed before age 55 
  • Age 55 and above for women, age 45 and above for men.

It is important to note that Malaysia has the highest prevalence of obesity in Southeast Asia, which could possibly be one of the contributing factors to Malaysians getting heart attacks at a younger age.

Symptoms of CVD

Symptoms can vary depending on the condition and individual affected but usually include:

  • Chest pain
  • Pain/ Weakness/ Numbness over limbs
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Palpitations
  • Dizziness/ Lightheadedness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Nausea/ Vomiting
  • Swollen limbs

Doctor’s Insight

Dr Mohd Al-Baqlish Mohd Firdaus, a consultant cardiologist at Pantai Hospital Ayer Keroh, states that CAD was usually associated with individuals aged 40 and above. However, he noted a rising number of patients under 40, around 2% annually. Dr Al-Baqlish also emphasised that the rise in childhood obesity causes a wide array of metabolic challenges and hypertension, which negatively impacts one’s body mass index (BMI). 

Classic symptoms of CAD are central chest discomfort and/or difficulty breathing while exerting oneself or engaging in physical activity. The discomfort may also radiate to the shoulder, arm, neck, jaw or back. 

“Young people experience similar symptoms (of heart disease) as older adults. However, they tend to ignore these symptoms and often seek treatment when complications have already set in. Angiographic findings show a higher incidence of single vessel disease rather than triple vessel disease among young patients.’’

Call for Action

Dr. Al-Baqlish advises young, adult Malaysians who have a strong family history of CVD to go for regular health screening. He also stressed that young Malaysians should start living healthier by adopting a balanced diet and exercising adequately. Avoiding smoking and smoking cessation can also greatly reduce the risk of CVD among young adults.

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