The incidence of heart attacks among young individuals has surged in recent years in the UAE. It has been observed that premature coronary heart diseases (CHDs) occur earlier in people in this region than in Western countries.
Dr Juwairia Al Ali, president of the Emirates Cardiac Society (ECS), said a few years ago that it was rare to see patients under 50 suffering from a heart attack. "However, hospitals across the UAE have reported an increasing number of people in their early 30s admitted due to heart attacks. Sadly, research has also shown that incidences of premature coronary heart diseases in the UAE, which can result in heart attacks, occur about 10-15 years earlier than in people of Western countries," Dr Juwairia said.
According to the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP), the death rate from heart disease in the UAE in the last couple of years was 70-80 per 100,000.
Dr Juwairia pointed out that even more worrying is the fact that around 40 per cent of adults in the UAE are at risk of Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease (ASCVD), and yet most are unaware of the risk until they experience severe conditions like a heart attack or stroke.
ASCVD is a condition where plaque buildup occurs in the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis, a process in which fatty deposits, cholesterol, blood cells and other substances accumulate inside the artery walls, forming plaques.
Dr Juwairia noted a study revealed that more than half of UAE residents have been affected by heart disease during their lifetime. Around 55 per cent of respondents had been directly affected by heart disease, either through being diagnosed themselves.
Mohamed Ezze Eldin, head of innovative medicines at Novartis Gulf, stressed that cardiovascular disease, known as the silent killer, is the leading cause of death worldwide and in the UAE.
"Risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, and eating saturated fats drive its prevalence in this region and worldwide. The sad reality is that many of these risk factors can be prevented or controlled with lifestyle changes, early detection, and appropriate treatment," he said.
Dr Juwairia blamed several factors that contribute to the development of cardiac diseases.
"The biggest one that we have to be aware of is high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or bad cholesterol, which leads to the formation of plaque in the artery walls. Hypertension is another factor that increases stress on the arterial walls, making them more susceptible to damage. Studies have also shown that people with diabetes often have abnormal blood sugar levels, which can damage blood vessels and accelerate the development of cardiac diseases," said Dr. Juwairia.
She also stressed that smoking, even regular second-hand smoke exposure, lack of regular exercise, and unhealthy diets contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.
In addition, a family history of heart disease is also a major factor that puts people at risk.
Dr Rajeev Lochan, consultant interventional cardiologist and head of the Department of Cardiology, Al Zahra Hospital, Dubai, said 35-45 years has been the most typical age range for heart attack mainly due to stressful life – either family or work stress, family history of heart diseases, smoking and harsh working conditions.
"During angiography, it shows blockage in one artery, suggesting not a generalised disease but one of the reasons mentioned above is responsible for block in heart arteries and attack," he added.
Dr Albert AlAhmar, the consultant interventional cardiologist at Dr Sulaiman Al Habib Hospital, Dubai, said the rate of heart attack and diabetes in UAE and the region is significantly higher than the global rate.
He pointed out that the rate of diabetes in UAE exceeds 50 per cent in some studies while it ranges between 20 to 25 per cent in other countries.
Heart attack symptoms
One of the most important things to be aware of when having an attack is that the longer a person waits to seek treatment, the more damage the heart muscle may sustain. This is why it is very important to be fully aware of the symptoms of a heart attack.
"Early signs of a heart attack include a slight chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, and pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, arm, or shoulder area. These may be accompanied by the person feeling nauseous, light-headed, or unusually tired. Some people may notice changes in their body for up to a month before having a heart attack. Many patients have said that they have experienced discomfort in their chest but had mistaken it for heartburn."
Dr Juwairia added that the most common symptom of a heart attack manifests as pressure, tightness, fullness, or sharp pain in the chest that lasts for several minutes. "The sensation may come and go or be constant. The pain may radiate from the chest and may come and go along the upper body. Profuse sweating, often described as cold sweats, may also occur before or during a heart attack, and the patient's skin may feel clammy or moist."
It is also important to note that some people may not experience symptoms at all, particularly women, older adults, and individuals with diabetes.
"If a person experiences any combination of these symptoms, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention, as acting quickly is vital in improving the chances of survival and minimising heart damage."
How to reduce the risks?
When determining who is at risk of the diseases, Dr Juwairia added that it is important to understand the difference between modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors. Modifiable risk factors revolve around lifestyle changes contributing to good heart health, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking, and managing stress.
Many physicians also recommend exercising more than 150 minutes a week to help prevent heart disease. In addition, people should include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, and unsalted nuts and legumes to reduce the chances of heart-related problems.
While non-modifiable risk factors is related to people's age, ethnicity, gender, and family history of diseases. "In this case, it is best to schedule regular appointments with your doctor to understand better the risk you face. If you have been prescribed medications for any heart-related conditions or risk factors such as cholesterol for example, be sure to take them as directed by your doctor – this is a critical point, especially with diseases like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, where you don't release the importance of taking the medication until you are faced with a medical emergency," Dr Juwairia warned.
It is also recommended that a person's first cholesterol screening should occur between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 21. Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. It is also recommended that cholesterol screenings occur every one to two years for men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65. People over 65 should receive cholesterol tests every year. People who have heart disease, diabetes, or a family history of high cholesterol need to get their cholesterol checked more often.
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