Men, don’t ignore your symptoms - it could result in sudden death


Denmark's midfielder Christian Eriksen (hidden), who is being tended to by paramedics after suddenly collapsing from a cardiac arrest during the Euro 2020 Group B football match between Denmark and Finland in Copenhagen on June 12, is one of the lucky people to escape sudden cardiac death. — AFP

Usually seen as the sole breadwinner in most families, men may be more hesitant to address their health issues to prevent jeopardising their sources of income, but at what cost?

In Malaysia, ischaemic heart diseases remain the principal cause of death for men, constituting 17.3% of fatalities in recent years.

There has also been an unfortunate increase in the occurrence of sudden deaths as a result.

This is as some of these heart conditions may suddenly manifest in a (literally) heart-stopping event when earlier symptoms are ignored or dismissed to avoid talking about the issue, or even seek treatment.

Consultant cardiologist and internal medicine physician Dr Tee Chee Hian shares that sudden death can be caused by a variety of heart problems, such as the blockage of coronary vessels due to ruptured plaques, or arrhythmias like ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation that lead to no cardiac output.

“The symptoms patients must look out for are palpitation, near fainting, or fainting episodes with loss of consciousness.

“Those with underlying coronary artery disease (CAD) may experience chest pain and shortness of breath on exertion, which can lead to sudden death,” he says.

“Sudden death can also be a result of congenital problems such as long QT syndrome, HOCM (hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy), ARVD (arrhythmoge-nic right ventricular dysplasia) or Brugada syndrome (a genetic disorder that causes an irregular heartbeat).”

Dr Tee shares that symptoms such as lethargy, shortness of breath on exertion, chest pain, postprandial angina (chest discomfort following meals) and reduced effort tolerance that occur repeatedly should not be ignored as these are all signs of heart issues.

When it comes to CAD, men are more likely to develop this condition than women.

Those with underlying congenital heart problems also have a risk of sudden death, especially at a younger age.

Senior citizens usually collapse and experience sudden death as a result of an acute heart attack.

Shares Dr Tee: “We were once presented with a case of a 50-year-old man who was a smoker and had no medical check-up records before he had sudden chest pain while walking in the park with profuse sweating.

“He was immediately sent to the ER (Emergency Room) and required CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

“His ECG (electrocardiogram) test showed the result of a malignant rhythm – ventricular fibrillation – and unfortunately, the patient did not survive.”

There are steps that men can practice to take better care of their health, including living a healthy lifestyle free from harmful habits like smoking, eating a balanced diet with more vegetables and fruits, and doing exercises that promote cardiovascular fitness like running, jogging and cycling.

“Go for regular check-ups to detect any possibility of dyslipidaemia (abnormal cholesterol levels), hypertension and DM (diabetes mellitus).

“It is important to target these risk factors of CAD by diet, medication and healthy lifestyle,” Dr Tee advises.

A ‘quiet’ cancer

Besides cardiac issues, another silent killer that men should be on the lookout for is prostate cancer, according to consultant urologist Datuk Dr Selvalingam Sothilingam.

Prostate cancer is the third most common cancer in males in Malaysia.

This is due to the lack of symptoms when the cancer is in its early stages.

“Patients are encouraged to go for screening if they have risk factors, especially if there is a family history of prostate or breast cancer.

“Screening can be done as early as 45 years old.

“The most common age for diagnosis of prostate cancer is the 60s and 70s.

“However, we have also detected cancer cases in men as early as in their 50s.

“Early diagnosis is key as it is potentially treatable if detected at an early stage,” he explains.

Younger patients can opt for surgery to remove the prostate, often with good long-term results.

“Surgery is safe, less painful and with a shorter recovery time, as it can be carried out via a keyhole surgery,” he adds.

In some cases, patients may mistake conditions such as benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) as a precursor to cancer.

This is a common misconception, Dr Selvalingam shares.

While patients with BPH symptoms will often be screened for prostate cancer as well, the two conditions develop in different ways.

BPH is normally treated with medications known as alpha blockers or surgery.

Patients should also watch what they eat, as Dr Selvalingam points out that diets with red meat, low fibre and overconsumption of processed food have been postulated to increase the risk of prostate cancer.

“Consuming foods such as cooked tomatoes, soya products and green tea, as well as a high-fibre diet rich in vegetables and fruits, may offer added protection,” he says.

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