Four simple but vital ways to protect your heart health

Keep your ticker in check today so you can enjoy a happier, healthier and longer life

The heart is one of your body's most essential organs, so taking good care of it is crucial to helping you stay healthier longer. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The heart is one of your body's most essential organs, so taking good care of it is crucial to helping you stay healthier longer. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

It is always important to guard your heart against diseases, not only during times of crises. This is because cardiovascular disease (which includes heart disease and stroke) is one of the top three causes of hospitalisation and death in Singapore.

The good news is, taking preventive measures early can drastically reduce your chances of getting cardiovascular diseases, while early detection of risk factors as well as intervention can go a long way in improving your well-being in the long run.

Bypass long waiting times by making fast and efficient appointments at Mount Elizabeth Hospital (MEH) and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital (MNH), where you can arrange to see a cardiology specialist within 48 hours.

Here, we ask four heart doctors from both MEH and MNH — Dr Paul Chiam, Dr Tan Chong Hiok, Dr Lim Choon Pin and Dr Reginald Liew — to share some simple lifestyle tips that can help lower your risk of various heart diseases, as well as advice on available treatments to boost your quality of life.


#1 Watch your cholesterol levels

Eating too much processed and deep-fried foods creates a build-up of fatty deposits that gradually clog your arteries, restricting blood supply to your heart. This can lead to coronary artery disease (CAD), one of the most common heart diseases in Singapore.

If left untreated, CAD can lead to heart attack or heart failure, which can be life threatening.

To restore blood flow to the heart in severe cases, doctors may recommend percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) with add-on shockwave therapy. PCI involves inserting a small balloon or stent into the blocked artery to encourage blood to flow properly again.

“Taking cholesterol medicine can slow or even stop the accumulation of plaque in the artery but there is no way of causing the cholesterol to disappear entirely. Currently, the only way to clear this narrowing is with a stent,” says Dr Tan Chong Hiok, interventional cardiologist.

“However, sometimes a lot of calcium also accumulates inside the cholesterol plaque, which hinders the stent from expanding fully. To crack this calcium, we can use shockwave.”

He explains: “This is like cracking an egg with a spoon, whereby the cracks in the eggshell soften the egg exterior. In the same manner, having cracked the calcium, the artery is now softened so that the stent can expand properly, thereby enlarging the artery.”

This is why it’s wise to be mindful of what goes into your body. Eating a balanced, heart-healthy diet helps contribute to lower cholesterol levels, so load up on high-fibre fruits and vegetables and choose lean meats wherever possible.


#2 Exercise regularly

Being physically fit isn’t just great for your waistline, it also contributes to better heart health by regulating blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure and keeping cholesterol levels in check.

Staying active also reduces your overall risk of chronic conditions such as CAD. The risk increases with age, and can be caused by many factors such as high blood pressure and smoking.

“As a general rule of thumb, just 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week can help bring blood pressure down and reduce the risk of heart disease developing or progressing,” says Dr Lim Choon Pin, consultant cardiologist.


#3 Find healthy ways to destress

In order to cope with pandemic-related stress and anxiety, some people may turn to alcohol or smoking, or rely too much on caffeine. Besides raising blood pressure, these habits may also trigger heart arrhythmia, whereby the heart beats too quickly or too slowly.

“While the condition may be mild for some, if not treated properly, more dangerous arrhythmias can sometimes develop, which can increase the risk of stroke and heart failure,” warns Dr Reginald Liew, cardiologist subspecialised in cardiac arrhythmia.

To treat arrhythmia, one can consider undergoing radiofrequency catheter ablation procedure which uses heat to remove the area of the heart that causes the abnormal beats.

“A commonly seen arrhythmia is Atrial Fibrillation, which causes the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) to beat chaotically and irregularly. The use of cryoballoon ablation, a minimally-invasive procedure which harnesses extreme cold, ‘freezes’ the heart cells that cause this irregular heartbeat,” explains Dr Liew.

Curb stress in a healthy manner by adopting some good habits, such as getting enough sleep every night, practising deep breathing techniques or meditation, and limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake.


#4 Prioritise regular checkups

All of the above are important in minimising your risk of cardiovascular disease, but it’s equally vital to get screened by a health professional every year. This is especially important because certain heart diseases, such as aortic valve stenosis, may not present any symptoms, even if there is severe damage to the valve.

Valve stenosis happens when the opening of the valve is smaller than normal, so blood cannot flow through properly.

“This disease can affect one or more heart valves, and one may be born with an abnormally formed valve or it may occur as one ages due to wear and tear. If severe aortic valve narrowing is left untreated, up to 50 per cent of patients may die from the condition in just two years,” says Dr Paul Chiam, interventional cardiologist.

“To repair the valve and improve your life span, doctors may perform a minimally invasive treatment called transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) to replace a new valve onto the damaged valve. Unlike open heart surgery, this procedure can be performed under local anaesthesia without the need for open chest surgery,” he explains.

“Heart diseases, if left untreated, could deteriorate and lead to more severe conditions like heart failure, which occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood sufficiently throughout the body. It is therefore important not to ignore any pain or symptoms you may experience, such as chest tightness or breathlessness,” says Dr Lim.

In cases of heart failure that do not respond to medication, doctors may then suggest surgery to implant an artificial heart pump called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to help restore normal blood flow to the body and relieve the symptoms of heart failure.

Stay ahead of the curve

The key is to always be medically prepared and proactive in seeking treatment when necessary, instead of waiting until it is too late.

As part of their #TomorrowMadeBetter campaign, private healthcare group Parkway Pantai — which operates MEH and MNH, as well as Parkway East Hospital and Gleneagles Hospital — wants to inspire all of us to take charge of our health today.

If you’re concerned about visiting the hospital due to Covid-19, rest assured that the hospitals have put in place enhanced safety measures such as regularly disinfecting high-traffic areas and temperature screenings to give you greater peace of mind.

By treating your heart well and identifying any issues early, you can look forward to enjoying a higher quality of life spent with your precious loved ones.

If you or your family members require treatment for a medical condition, make an appointment with a specialist or visit MEH’s 24-hour A&E clinics.