21.AUG.2016 4 MIN READ | 4 MIN READ

Google the term ‘heart disease’, and you’ll find yourself confronted with an array of nasty-sounding ailments. We get to the heart of the matter, with this guide to common symptoms, causes and preventive measures.

Last updated on 18 February 2020

What exactly is heart disease?

Generally speaking, heart disease covers any disorder of the heart and circulatory system. It’s a serious issue that is the leading cause of death of men in America, with 1 in 4 men dying from it. Closer to home, almost 1 in 3 deaths in Singapore are attributed to heart diseases or stroke.

The most common types of heart disease include blood vessel diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm sickness (arrhythmias), and born-with (congenital) heart defects. Other conditions usually involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to chest pain, heart attacks, or even a stroke.

Different heart diseases trigger a variation of symptoms – and recognising the correct match can help medical professionals identify the cause quickly in an emergency so that the right action is taken.

What are some common heart diseases and their symptoms?

While the list is pretty large, we’ve listed some of the broader categories of heart disease and their causes.

Heart disease in the blood vessels

Coronary artery cardiovascular disease
The coronary arteries supply the heart with nutrients and oxygen by circulating blood. Cardiovascular diseases occur when these arteries can get clogged up with plaque from cholesterol and fatty deposits. You may want to be mindful of this if you’re a meat lover or consume a lot of animal-based products like eggs and milk.

If a blood clot occurs, blood flow is restricted, potentially causing a heart attack.

Symptoms to be wary of include:

  • Chest pain, tightness, pressure and discomfort
  • Cold shivers
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness and weakness in the neck, jaw, throat and upper abdomen

Abnormal heartbeat

When your heart beats fast or irregularly it could be due to a heart arrhythmia. Common causes include natural heart defects, diabetes, high blood pressure, or extreme smoking and alcoholic habits. Stress could also play a part in causing heart arrhythmia – so workaholics out there, do make time for rest.

Be sure to keep an eye out for:

  • An abnormally quick, slow or erratic heartbeat
  • A ‘fluttering’ feeling in your chest
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light-headedness, dizziness or fainting.

Weak heart muscle

This can occur due to genetics or artery diseases. It may be difficult to detect, but as conditions worsen, you may experience breathlessness, fatigue or swelling of the limbs.

Heart infections

Heart infection fever
Heart infections occur when the inner membrane that separates the heart’s chambers and valves is infected. They are usually caused by the presence of bacteria, parasites or viruses in the heart.

On top of symptoms similar to the previous conditions, one could experience fever, dry cough, or even unusual skin rashes.

Valvular heart disease

Some may be born with valvular heart disease, and others may get them from connective tissue disorders. When any of the 4 valves of the human heart are damaged and does not allow blood to flow through as it should – leading to narrowing, leaking, or improper closing of the valves, one can be in physical danger.

The symptoms that occur differ, but they include fatigue, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, swollen feet, and fainting spells.

When to seek medical attention?

Seek immediate medical care once chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting is experienced – because these symptoms can point to an impending heart attack or stroke.

Always remember that prevention is better than cure. Even if you don’t display any of these symptoms, be sure to speak to a cardiologist about unusual symptoms and ways to proactively reduce your risk of heart disease.

What can I do to keep my heart healthy?

While you can’t change risk factors – such family history, gender or ageing – heart disease is certainly avoidable.

Here are 3 tips to keep you healthy:

Book an annual check-up

Annual heart check screening
Adults, especially those aged 45 and older, and those with a history of heart disease, should get checked once a year.

Get enough rest

Having enough sleep is also crucial for lowering high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes – night owls and workaholics take note!

Keep that cholesterol level in check

Manage your cholesterol levels by making conscious lifestyle changes, such as switching for healthier food options. This includes getting enough physical activity and eating your greens.


Article reviewed by Dr Reginald Liew, cardiologist at Gleneagles Hospital

Last updated on 18 February 2020


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Liew Kay Choon Reginald
Gleneagles Hospital

Dr Reginald Liew is a cardiologist practising at Gleneagles Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Hospitals, Singapore.