Can a fit healthy person who exercises regularly suffer a heart attack?

Can a fit healthy person who exercises regularly suffer a heart attack?
I am thinking of starting on an exercise regime or planning to take part in a race. Should I get my heart checked?

Many Singaporeans are realizing the importance of exercise and have embarked on various sports (eg marathons, tennis, badminton) in an effort to improve their cardiovascular health. There is however a real risk of developing a heart attack during exercise in patients with undiagnosed heart disease.

Mr A is a fit 48-year-old father of two young children. He has only one risk factor of high cholesterol (well-controlled on medications). He presented with a gradual onset of chest & abdominal discomfort associated with jaw discomfort and numbness of the left hand as he was playing badminton. He stopped immediately, contacted me and was advised to come to my clinic for an urgent clinical review. His ECG was unremarkable but blood tests revealed that he had suffered a heart attack.

An urgent minimally invasive trans-radial (through the wrist) coronary angiogram was performed for him and it revealed a critical 95% narrowing in the Right Coronary Artery and a severe 80% narrowing in the Left Circumflex Artery (Both are important arteries supplying the muscles of the heart).

Immediate Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (ballooning and stenting) of both arteries was performed for him successfully. This significantly reduced his risk of recurrent heart attacks, heart failure and irregular heart rhythms that may lead to sudden cardiac death. He was discharged in a stable condition and is recuperating well at home.

Important lessons to learn from Mr A’s close clinical encounter:

  1. Do not dismiss chest pain or any new symptoms during exercise as something trivial. It may be an early warning sign of an underlying serious heart condition.
  2. Seek medical attention early if you experience symptoms of chest pain, jaw tightness, upper limb numbness during exercise or at rest.
  3. Speak to your family doctor or cardiologist before embarking on strenuous physical activity, especially if you are above 35 years of age.

We offer an Athlete Sports Screening Package for individuals who are planning to embark on training for various sporting activities (eg. marathons, triathlons, long-distance cycling). For more details, check here.

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