Doctors at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi have offered advice to Muslims fasting this Ramadan to help avoid common health issues.
Going long periods without food or water can result in problems such as dry eyes, allergic rhinitis – also known as hay fever, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and hypertension.
In 2018 a study by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi found that 49 per cent of people fasting were concerned about managing their diet and illnesses throughout Ramadan.
"In patients who do not suffer from chronic conditions, most health issues are caused by a sudden change in routine, unhealthy eating habits and sleep patterns," said Dr Hussein Saadi, chair of the hospital's medical subspecialties institute.
"For patients with chronic diseases, symptoms can intensify if they do not seek advice from their doctor on how to manage their conditions while fasting.
“We always tell patients to ease into the month of fasting by making simple changes to their daily routine before Ramadan, so that their body is not shocked into adjusting.”
Diet, sleep and managing pre-existing conditions are the three most important things for people to be aware of going into the holy month, Dr Saadi said.
“Start by detoxifying your body with a generous, well-balanced breakfast and plenty of water early in the day and end with a light meal to prep the body for the coming month.
"Additionally, cut out caffeine in the lead up to the month to prevent withdrawal symptoms during the first few days of Ramadan,” he said.
The quality of sleep you get also plays an important role. Without suitable rest additional problems, such as fatigue and hormonal imbalances, can arise.
“Disruption in sleep patterns is common during Ramadan, but this can be addressed by staying away from heavy foods during Iftar, going to bed earlier and taking naps to make up for lost sleep at night.”
Patients who take medication for chronic conditions must consult their doctor before beginning a fast, as adjustments may need to be made to their health management plan.
To help patients over the holy month, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is providing evening clinics from 9:00PM to 1:00AM.
Top five health concerns during Ramadan
1) Gastrointestinal problems
Fasting can improve health, but a diet full of oily and sugary foods can lead to bloating, belching, acid reflux – also known as heartburn – and indigestion, even in people who do not suffer from gastric problems.
The frequency of peptic ulcers – open sores that develop on the inside lining ofthe stomach – which cause stomach aches, are also higher during Ramadan.
Overeating and opting for fried and spicy foods can stress the digestive system and trigger reflux.
Experts suggest hydrating properly between fasts, eating slowly and having well-balanced meals with plenty of fibre.
Aid digestion by including exercise and walks into your daily routine.
2) Allergic rhinitis
Also called hay fever, this is a type of inflammation in the nose caused by an overreaction of the immune system to allergens in the air. It causes a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and itchy and watery eyes. A regular complaint during the summer months, the issue can be more pronounced in Ramadan when patients who fast change their routines.
Experts suggest creating a dust-free environment at home by controlling temperature and humidity, keeping the air-conditioning vents clean and using air purifiers to prevent attacks.
3. Dry eye
Dry eye is a condition that occurs when tears aren't able to provide adequate lubrication for the eyes. A change in diet and reduced intake of nutrient-rich foods can impact on the functioning of the eye muscles and tear glands.
Patients with a pre-existing dry eye condition can exacerbate the situation during Ramadan if a healthy diet and regular sleep pattern are not maintained. Experts recommend consulting a physician as soon as symptoms occur.
A change in eating and sleeping patterns can cause fluctuations in blood pressure. People with mild to moderate hypertension can fast safely by maintaining a healthy lifestyle – exercising and adhering to medication protocols on the advice of their physician.
Dehydration, caffeine withdrawal, low blood sugar and lack of sleep can contribute to headaches.
Experts say adopting a steady routine during Ramadan, eating complex carbohydrates to maintain the blood sugar level, drinking at least eight glasses of water and getting seven hours of sleep every day can help reduce the occurrence of headaches.