SINGAPORE - Not only are more people in this part of the world suffering heart failure, but they are also getting it 10 years earlier than their Western counterparts.
An ongoing study has found that the condition afflicts Asian patients at an average age of 60. In contrast, patients in the United States and Europe generally see their hearts starting to fail only when they are in their early 70s.
Carolyn Lam, a consultant at the National University Heart Centre who is leading the study, said the finding is "frightening".
She added that it will have "important implications for risk-factor control, and treatment for the prevention of heart failure".
Asians get the short end of the stick despite being skinnier and having a lower Body Mass Index, said Associate Professor Lam.
The findings were derived from the first 2,000 patients enrolled in a first-of-its-kind multinational study that included a total of 8,000 patients in 11 Asian territories, including Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Singapore topped an unwanted list with the highest rate of diabetes, which is one of the common causes of heart failure.
Six in 10 Singaporean heart-failure patients in the study have diabetes, compared to five in 10 Malaysians and four in 10 Taiwanese.
The staggering statistic is also almost double the average in America and Europe, which, according to previous studies, hovers between 30 and 39 per cent.
Besides diabetes, other chronic tell-tale signs of a heart failure include high cholesterol, hypertension and obesity.
The World Health Organisation has projected the largest increases in cardiovascular diseases to be in Asia. For patients, heart failure is not only physically debilitating but also likely to pose an increasing financial burden here.
Heart failure is the top cause of all hospitalisations among the elderly here, accounting for some 6,000 hospitalisation in 2011.
"It is a lot of hospitalisation and it is impacting people who should still be in the prime of their productive lives," said Prof Lam.
"It is a huge impact on our health-care system and our society."
The five-year survival rate for heart failure patients is also only about 32 per cent, which rivals most cancers, "even though we don't seem to react to it the same way", said Prof Lam.
And, much like cancer, heart failure can also be categorised into various stages, with symptoms such as breathlessness and fatigue surfacing only later.
Besides keeping the various risk factors in check with proper treatment, a good diet and exercise will go a long way to prevent heart failure, said Prof Lam.
For Mohamad Rolan Mohamad Zain, 62, it took two heart attacks to force him to make extreme changes to his lifestyle.
Now, after 50 years of smoking, he has kicked the habit, eats more vegetables and exercises regularly.
"Today, I am just like before - I can walk and cycle. I don't treat myself like a handicapped person," said the operations executive.
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