Malaysians need to do regular health screening for heart diseases

The highly recommended time to start checking your cholesterol levels is at the age of 20, says cardiologist

By NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

Malaysians should perform regular health screenings especially for heart diseases even as early as in their 20s, said a cardiologist.

National Heart Institute (IJN) consultant cardiologist Dr Rafidah Abu Bakar said locals need to take more steps to understand their physical conditions better instead of waiting to reach a certain age.

“The highly recommended time to start checking your cholesterol levels is at the age of 20, and if your level is below high risk, it’s a good thing to keep checking every two to four years after.

“After 40, I would recommend an annual checkup,” she said during a roundtable discussion about heart health and cholesterol awareness at the heart specialist centre in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

She said individuals with over or equal to 5.2 mmol/L basic cholesterol level are at high risk of buildup and may require further investigation for potential heart disease risks.

Dr Rafidah said the gradual rise of cholesterol buildup makes way for arteriosclerosis, a condition in which artery walls are clogged.

“This then makes it difficult for oxygen and blood to flow through the body and causes chest pain, heart attack or stroke. The problem is that many Malaysians think high cholesterol only affects men and the over- weight,” she said, adding that high cholesterol does not discriminate and affects everyone regardless of gender, especially when one grows older.

“We should also not forget that there are people who are more susceptible such as those who are direct descendants of individuals with a history in premature cardiovascular diseases, which is a non-modifiable factor,” she said.

One in two adult Malaysians suffers from high cholesterol, with about half of them under the age of 40.

There are about 38,000 patients admitted with a heart disease every year and the figure has not changed since 2013 despite continuous attempts to increase awareness about cholesterol and heart diseases.

Also present at the roundtable discussion were two bypass surgery patients, the two-time hockey Olympian Ahmad Fadzil Zainal and Vijayakumar Kandasamy.

Ahmad Fadzil said he was surprised to find out that he had three clogged arteries despite being an athlete.

“The experience, however, has taught me to take better care of my health in general, while many locals with high cholesterol out there are still unaware of their status,” he said.

IJN senior principal dietitian Foong Pui Hing said cholesterol plays an important role in the body which includes producing hormones, building cell membranes, as well as forming vitamin D.

“Cholesterol in food from animal products has a small effect on LDL or bad cholesterol. However, saturated and trans fats in food can cause a greater increase in LDL cholesterol.

“To help decrease this type of cholesterol, it is better to replace your fat intake with healthier fats and have an adequate fibre intake from fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” she said.

Similarly, Nestlé (M) Bhd Milo and milks business unit business executive officer Kumaran Nowuram said the high prevalence of high cholesterol among Malaysians is a reflection of their fast-paced lifestyles and strong food culture.

“We want to motivate them to make simple behavioural changes that can impact their health positively and lead them to enjoy longer, healthier lives, which is in line with Nestlé’s purpose of enhancing the quality of life,” he said.

The Nestlé Omega Plus 30-Day challenge ending on Sept 30 was jointly launched with the IJN Foundation to encourage Malaysians to take charge of their heart health by lowering their blood cholesterol levels in a nationwide competition.

Following the two bodies’ partnership last year, they have held activities such as conducting cholesterol checks, distributing health kits and carrying on educational awareness and seminars regarding healthier diets.