More heart attacks but fewer deaths

SINGAPORE - While more people are suffering from heart attacks in Singapore, the number of deaths has dipped significantly over the past five years, a result of greater awareness and better prevention and treatment.

Malays have also taken over from Indians as the highest risk group, the latest figures from the Ministry of Health (MOH) show.

The number of people who died from heart attacks fell from 1,557 in 2008 to 1,102 in 2011. This was despite more people suffering heart attacks each year - from 7,242 in 2008 to 7,813 in 2011.

Associate Professor Tan Huay Cheem, director of the National University Heart Centre (NUHC), said Singapore has significantly reduced the time taken for a patient to get treatment to open up a blocked artery.

The median time from arriving at the hospital to unblocking an artery has gone down from 95 minutes in 2007 to 66 minutes in 2011, he said.

Emergency stenting, where a metal scaffolding keeps the blood vessel open, has also pushed up survival rates.

According to the MOH, the rate of heart attacks per 100,000 people had fallen steadily from 45 in 2008 to 30 in 2011 after adjusting for an older population.

But Associate Professor Terrance Chua, deputy medical director of the National Heart Centre, cautioned that heart attacks continue to be a major concern since they occur more commonly in the older age groups and the country's population is ageing.

"Heart disease and stroke combined accounts for one in three deaths in Singapore. Hence, it is still a major cause of death and disability," he said.

Prof Chua added that with rising rates of diabetes and obesity here - both known to increase the risk of heart attacks - "we cannot afford to be complacent".

Prof Tan noted that Malays take a longer time to get medical help, clocking the longest symptom-to-balloon time at NUHC. He said this could reflect poorer understanding of the disease and its symptoms among them, hence delaying their reaction time to get treatment.

One recent case was Mr Muhamed Murad Ahmad, 45, who felt a pain in his left arm. When it did not go away, his wife suggested that he go for a check-up.

That was when he found out he had suffered a heart attack. Doctors at NUHC immediately inserted two stents, with a third done this month.

"I was shocked," said the father of three boys. Until then, the regional sales manager had not known that he could be at risk because of his obesity.

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