If the death of Taiwanese-Canadian model-actor Godfrey Gao in the latter part of last year shocked the world, it was because of his age and cause of death. At 35, Gao, the first Asian to model for Louis Vuitton, was at the prime of his life when he collapsed from a heart attack while competing in the reality show Chase Me. Attempts to revive him both on set and in the hospital were unsuccessful.
Granted, Gao had been filming for 17 hours straight when the unthinkable happened. Still, a heart attack isn’t something associated with someone of his profile, so young and fit—or so we think.
This Heart Month, top hospital in the Philippines Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), through its Heart Station, gets to the heart of the matter: Are you too young to have a heart problem?
Old man’s disease—not. For years, heart disease has been thought of as an illness of the middle-aged and elderly, a condition that happens over time and through the cumulative effects of bad habits like smoking, drinking, drugs, lack of exercise, unhealthy food choices, and lifestyle.
That cardiovascular disease now affects those around Godfrey Gao’s age or younger “is no longer a rare occurrence or a surprise,” says Saturnino P. Javier, MD, Section Chief of Cardiology. The culprit? Genetics, family history, and undiagnosed or untreated congenital abnormalities certainly increase one’s chances of developing heart disease.
But so do a host of lifestyle choices. “A preference for fast food, processed food, and alcohol coupled with a sedentary lifestyle of smoking and sitting all day with gadgets lead to obesity, which, in turn trigger the onset of diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure—risk factors of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Javier says. “The role of drugs, alcohol, and stressful situations cannot be underestimated.”
While people in their 20s and 30s tend to feel invincible at these decades of their lives, they should also be aware of the subtle signs of a possible heart problem. “Symptoms include breathlessness, palpitations, fatigue, chest pain,
weakness, and edema,” he explains. “Other symptoms not immediately associated with heart problems are pain in the left arm, jaw, back, neck, shoulder blades, and the upper abdomen.”
Interestingly, women with heart disease experience their own set of symptoms. “Excess fatigue, cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and even fainting are among the warning signs that they tend to dismiss or mistake as flu,” Dr. Javier points out.
“But it should also be emphasized that heart disease can be present with no symptoms at all. That is why we also refer to it as a silent killer,” he explains.
Heart disease may know no age, but it’s also something that can be avoided or managed at best with practical solutions. Dr. Javier advises, “First, have yourself checked by a family physician to get a baseline of your overall health, including your heart condition. Find out if you have any pre-existing conditions and what you can do to address them. And see your doctor regularly to monitor your health.”
The simplest, of course, is revamping your lifestyle. This solution affects not only your heart in a good way but your overall health, too. “Exercise regularly, eat more fruits, vegetables, and quality protein, and avoid smoking, drinking, or drugs,” says Dr. Javier.