What is a heart attack and how to prevent it?

31 March 2023 | Kuala Lumpur

What is heart attack?

A heart attack (technically also known as myocardial infarction) is a serious medical condition that can potentially be life-threatening. It occurs when the blood supply to the heart is blocked, usually caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in the coronary arteries. A lack of blood to the heart would imply that the heart is not receiving enough oxygen and nutrients to function properly, potentially leading heart muscle damage and/or a heart attack.  Symptoms of a heart attack can include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and sweating.

With prompt medical attention, the chances of surviving a heart attack are significantly increased. The risk of getting a heart attack can also be reduced by improving our lifestyle, diet, and adopting good habits.

In this article, you will learn about the causes of a heart attack, its symptoms, the means of diagnosing heart conditions, and what can be done to prevent and reduce the risk of a heart attack.

Heart attack statistics in Malaysia 

Age of onset

Statistics show that the average age of onset of a heart attack is 58 years old in Malaysia, which is the youngest in the region compared to countries like Thailand and China, where it is 65 and 63, respectively. However, heart attacks are now increasing in occurrence among younger Malaysians, where one in five patients is under 40.

Heart disease is the main cause of death in Malaysia

Ischaemic heart disease (also known as coronary heart disease) can potentially lead to chest pain (angina pectoris) and, in some cases, a heart attack.

Ischaemic heart disease accounts for 17% of the 109,155 deaths in 2020, making it the leading cause of death for both male and female Malaysians, with males being more affected than females (19.3% and 13.4% of deaths, respectively). According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, ischaemic heart disease is among the top three causes of death in Malaysia across the majority of the states and the main cause of death for all major ethnic groups (Bumiputera, Chinese and Indians).

Causes of heart attacks

Heart attacks are caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart. This blockage is usually caused by a build-up of plaque in the arteries, which is a combination of cholesterol, fat, and other substances that accumulate over time. Other causes of heart attacks include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. In some cases, a heart attack can be caused by sudden, intense physical activity, such as marathon running. There have even been reports of people getting a heart attack unexpectedly while out running.

Heart Attack Symptoms

  • Chest pain or discomfort (often felt in the centre or left side of the chest) that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
  • Discomfort in other areas of the body such as the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of fatigue and weaknesses

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Waste no time and call 999 or 911 immediately if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. Do not ignore the symptoms. Any delay in treatment will cause damage to the heart muscle. It is therefore crucial to get the medical attention you need as soon as possible.

How to prevent a heart attack?

The good news is that there are active steps you can take to promote a healthy heart, such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking.

Diet and heart health

Eating is surely one of our favourite national pastimes. Who can resist a good plate of biryani, nasi lemak or rendang? While they taste good, they are not good for the heart. These cholesterol and fat-laden dishes along with any food high in sugar and salt should only be consumed in moderation. Eating a diet low in saturated fat and sodium can help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, can also help reduce the risk of heart disease. For your next meal, opt for brown or white steamed rice instead of flavoured rice (e.g., coconut rice, biryani rice). There’s no need to finish all that gravy in your Penang laksa – there are other ways to show your appreciation for the chef. Pair your meal with plain ol’ tea instead of that teh tarik or gassy drink. For dessert, go for yogurt instead of ice cream. These diet recommendations are not meant to be a kill joy - feel free to treat yourself occasionally to your favourite nasi lemak, but the baseline is that you are eating healthy food most of the time.

Exercise and heart health

Exercise is a great way to keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease. Regular physical activity helps reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It also has other positive benefits like reducing stress and boosting your moods.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. Strength training, such as weightlifting, should also be included in a routine at least two days per week. How about gathering your kakis to play badminton on a regular basis, or exploring some scenic trails on a bike?

Smoking and heart health

Chemicals inhaled when smoking can cause plague to build up in your arteries, making it difficult for blood cells to reach your heart, creating blood clots that can cause a heart attack.

A study conducted on adult Malaysians also shows that smoking increases the risk of mortality. On the other side of the same coin, quitting smoking will also reduce your risk of heart disease and improve mortality.

Cost of heart-related medical procedures in Malaysia

Here are the estimated medical costs to treat heart-related issues in public and private hospitals in Malaysia that you should know. This will help you get a better sense of the financial impact of suffering from a heart attack.

The cost of heart disease treatment varies greatly depending on the type of hospital.

In a public hospital, an angiogram or stent angioplasty typically ranges from RM50 to RM200, whereas a coronary bypass would cost around RM4,000. However, in a private hospital, these procedures would cost much more, with angioplasties ranging from RM15,000 to RM45,000 and coronary bypasses running from RM25,000 to RM80,000.

Besides the cost of treatment, there are other costs that you will need to factor in too, including consultation fees, angiography, administration fees and room charges.

Source: Ringgit Plus

Love your heart

Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. And you only have ONE heart. Love it well and, treat it well with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

However, in the unfortunate event of a heart attack, you will need to make sure you are financially protected as there are various costs that would be incurred for treatment and recovery.

Recovery from a heart attack is based on its severity. Generally, 2 to 7 days of hospitalisation are required after a heart attack, and it can take up to 3 months for your doctor to give you the go-ahead to return to work.

A good critical illness insurance or takaful plan should allow you to focus on your recovery instead of bills, living expenses, lifestyle adjustments required and other costs that come with a heart attack.

From as low as RM10.27/month, FWD Big 3 Critical Illness is a critical illness protection plan that covers you for the top three most common critical illnesses in Malaysia - heart attack, cancer, or stroke. With no medical examinations required, this plan provides you with a lump sum benefit of up to RM250,000 in the event that you are diagnosed. To equip you better, the plan also comes with a RM20,000 death benefit due to all causes and optional enhancement coverage for 24 neurological and heart conditions. Get a critical illness coverage takaful plan quote now.