Everything you need to know to protect this vital organ and lower your risk for disease

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Everything you need to know to protect this vital organ and lower your risk for disease

According to the Singapore Heart Foundation, cardiovascular disease accounted for 29.5 per cent of all deaths in 2016, meaning that for every three deaths in Singapore, one of them is related to heart diseases or a stroke.

A study reported in The Straits Times the same year also found that Singaporeans suffer from heart failure at the age of 61, which is about 10 years earlier than Americans and Europeans. So it pays to know what steps you can take now to reduce your risks.

Here are the most important facts to know about heart health, what to do to protect yourself, and how to prevent further damage if you’re suffering from heart disease.

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a term used to describe all diseases of the heart and blood vessels. The cause of most CVD is the gradual narrowing or blockage of blood vessels. This process is called atherosclerosis and is due to the build-up of fatty deposits in the lining of blood vessels, caused by factors including, high blood cholesterol and blood pressure, smoking, lack of exercise, being overweight, excessive alcohol intake, diabetes and depression.

Many of these risk factors can be prevented and managed by lifestyle changes. Ageing, a family history of CVD, and being male also increase the risk.

The most common forms of CVD are coronary heart disease and stroke.

The coronary arteries supply the heart muscle with blood. When plaque accumulates in the arteries, coronary heart disease develops. If your arteries become too narrow due to plaque build-up, less blood can reach your heart muscle, which can lead to angina. This is pain that occurs when your heart can’t get enough blood or oxygen. If a blood clot forms in a narrow artery and blocks the blood supply to part of your heart, it can cause a heart attack. The arteries also carry blood to the brain, and when the supply of blood to the brain is suddenly disrupted, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients, a stroke happens.


Chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack, but some people will not experience pain at all. Others will experience only mild chest pain or discomfort with one symptom or a combination of a few.

Heart attack warning signs may not always be sudden or severe, and can range from a mild sensation to a more severe pain. Symptoms can come on suddenly or develop over minutes and get progressively worse, usually lasting for at least 10 minutes, and can include:

♥ Discomfort or pain in the centre of your chest – a heaviness, tightness or pressure, like a belt tightening around your chest, or a bad case of indigestion.

♥ Discomfort in the arms, shoulder, neck, jaw or back.

♥ A choking feeling.

♥ Your arms feeling heavy or useless.

♥ Shortness of breath.

♥ Nauseousness.

♥ Breaking into a cold sweat.

♥ Dizziness or light-headedness.


More than 40 per cent of women will not experience chest pain. Women can have pain in either arm, not just the left one unlike many men. Pain in the lower or upper back often starts in the chest and spreads to these areas. The pain is sometimes sudden, not due to physical exertion, and can wake you up at night. It may feel specific to the left, lower side of the jaw.

Aside from the common symptoms mentioned earlier, here are three signs that women should not ignore:

1. Unusual fatigue. With our busy lives it’s not surprising we often feel tired. But see your doctor if you are suddenly worn out after your normal exercise routine, you have fatigue without exerting yourself, or basic activities like making the bed make you excessively tired.

2. Sweating and/or shortness of breath. These symptoms are not unusual as women age because of weight gain, a lack of exercise and hot flushes. But in certain situations, they can signal a heart problem – sudden sweating or shortness of breath without exertion, breathlessness that worsens over time after exertion, or a cold, clammy feeling, accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain.

3. Neck, jaw, back pain. When there is a problem with the heart, you sometimes feel pain elsewhere. Pain in the jaw, back or arms may signal a heart condition. Also. If the discomfort begins or worsens when you are exerting yourself, and then stops when you stop moving, you should get it checked out.


Why do Singaporeans experience high rates of heart disease?

❯ One in nine Singaporeans have diabetes – these were stats indicated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally in 2017.

❯ Six in 10 Singaporeans eat more than the recommended daily calories – as per the Health Promotion Board’s report for 2017.

❯ 36.2 per cent of Singaporeans aged 18 to 69 are overweight – as per figures submitted by the Ministry of Health in 2017. This is because many Singaporeans opt for takeaway or processed food, which have extra calories.

❯ Slightly less than one in four Singapore residents aged 30 to 68 years have hypertension, according to Health Hub.


When it comes to chest pain, a doctor will assume symptoms are heart related until proven otherwise. Other causes of chest pain can include:

♥ Indigestion of reflux – when stomach acid comes up the food pipe, and causes a burning pain in the chest.

♥ Muscle strains and inflammation in the spaces between the ribs. 

♥ Shingles – an infection that typically causes pain before a skin rash appears.

♥ Chest infections such as pleurisy, bronchitis and pneumonia.

♥ Diabetes.

♥ Chronic kidney disease.

♥ An irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation.

♥ A family history of heart attack or stroke in a first-degree relative (mother, father or sibling) under 55 years of age.

♥ A family history of high cholesterol.

♥ Your weight.


To limit damage caused by a heart attack, it’s important to get treatment immediately, so call 995 if your chest pain is severe, or worsening, or lasts longer than 10 minutes. If you are a certified CPR, ask for an AED (Automated External Defibrillator), in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest.

For more details, call the Singapore Heart Foundation at 6354 9340 or visit


• The heart is a muscle that works harder in a lifetime than any other muscle in the body.

• An adult’s heart is about the same size as two fists.

• The right side of the heart pumps the blood to the lungs, where it receives oxygen.

• The blood is pumped to reach every cell in your body, except your corneas.

• The sound of thumping heard from the heart is made by its four valves closing.

• Your heart works hard, beating about 100,000 times a day and pumping about a million barrels of blood around the body during the average lifetime.

• A man’s heart beats on average 70 times a minute while a woman’s heart beats 78 times a minute.


Heart disease runs in my family, am I more likely to develop it too?

A person’s family history can increase their tendency to develop risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or weight issues. But that doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop it. Working to eliminate or reduce lifestyle risk factors, like smoking or an unhealthy diet, is the best plan of action.

If you have heart disease, do you need to take it easy?

For most people with heart disease, being sedentary is not a good idea. Physical activity helps strengthen the heart muscle, boosts blood flow to the brain and internal organs, and improves overall health. Talk to your doctor about what sort of exercise is right for you.

Is cardiac arrest the same as a heart attack?

No, a heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked. Because of the blockage, the heart muscle can’t get its vital blood supply and will begin to die, if left untreated. A cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops pumping blood around their body and they stop breathing normally.

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