Doctors warn of Abu Dhabi's leading cause of death on World Heart Day

Doctors say heart disease accounts for 37 per cent of all deaths in the country's capital

Surgeons perform a heart operation at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Photo Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi
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Women are 10 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) than breast cancer, a leading health official has said.

On World Heart Day , doctors are sounding alarm bells over the rising number of in deaths caused by the condition each year.

“People are also dying younger than usual because of CVD,” said Dr Abdullah Shehab, president of the Emirates Cardiac Society and Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at Al Ain Hospital and Al Noor Hospitals

According to the Department of Health, heart disease is the leading cause of death in Abu Dhabi, accounting for 37 per cent of all fatalities. Some 3,283 total deaths of were recorded in the UAE capital in 2016.

“The prevalence of cardiovascular diseases is equal to that of western countries because we share similar risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking, in addition to unhealthy lifestyles and a lack of exercise,” Dr Shehab said.

These risk factors result in high cholesterol and inevitably contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Where the UAE differs is by having a larger proportion of children who are obese or suffering from risk factors that would ordinarily affect older people.

“A third of our children are obese. We are seeing risk factors in young children meaning that they will suffer from CVD at a young age,” said Dr Shehab.


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According to the World Health Organisation, CVD are the leading cause of death globally. More people die annually from CVD than from any other cause. An estimated 17.9 million people died from CVD in 2016, representing 31 per cent of all global deaths. Of these deaths, 85 per cent were due to heart attacks or strokes.

“The solution is in our hands,” Dr Shehab said. “We have to be active, keep away from smoking and unhealthy food and sleep well.”

He said people should also ensure they are having regular medical check-ups. “The earlier we detect it then the earlier we can monitor the situation and modify our lifestyle.”

A small percentage of CVDs are genetic but the majority are caused by unhealthy lifestyles.

Compounding the problem is a lack of awareness, Dr Shehab said.

“If you ask any anyone what the number one cause of death is, the usual response is cancer. Women are 10 times more like to die of cardiovascular disease than of breast cancer,” he said.

Physicians at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi are highlighting the risks that atrial fibrillation poses to the Abu Dhabi community.

The world’s most common heart rhythm abnormality, atrial fibrillation often goes undetected but poses a danger to those who possess it as it can lead to serious health problems. Globally, the majority of atrial fibrillation cases remain undiagnosed, and the problem of under-diagnosis is particularly acute in the Middle East and North Africa.

It is estimated that one in four people can develop atrial fibrillation as they age. In the MENA region, patients typically encounter problems at a younger age than the global average.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi opened a specialised atrial fibrillation clinic in 2018 to diagnose, monitor and treat the condition.

“We expect to find cases of atrial fibrillation in people over the age of 55 but we see a lot of patients under 30 in our clinic,” said Dr Khalid Al Muti, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

“We know that family history is an important factor in determining a person’s risk of developing atrial fibrillation, but we are also seeing that lifestyle issues have a major impact, such as obesity, lack of exercise and smoking.”

Characterised by an irregular and rapid heartbeat, atrial fibrillation is caused by the upper chambers of the heart generating chaotic electrical signals. While the condition is not life-threatening, it can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness and chest pain if uncontrolled. Left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to serious complications such as stroke and heart failure.

Early detection is essential to preventing some of the serious complications such as stroke that are associated with atrial fibrillation. People with a family history are advised to have regular screening.

Once detected, atrial fibrillation can be managed with medication. If required, ablation procedures can help restore a normal heart rhythm and to reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke.

The hospital conducted an awareness campaign throughout September to educate UAE residents about cardiovascular disease.