UAE doctors seeing heart disease patients in their thirties

Poor sleep and high smoking rates mean the average patient is about 10 years younger than in the West

Young medical professional uses instrument to check on patient's lungs. Getty Images
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Heart disease is being seen in young people in the Middle East about 10 years earlier than in other parts of the world, doctors in the UAE have said.

Poor lifestyle habits, including unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise and sleep, are causing heart attacks and chronic conditions to become more common in younger people.

“In this region, we see patients presenting with severe heart conditions almost a decade earlier than in the West," said Dr Faisal Hasan, staff physician at the Heart and Vascular Institute in Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

"We see a significant number of patients in their 30s and 40s with cardiovascular problems and in some rare instances even earlier.”

We see patients presenting with severe heart conditions almost a decade earlier than in the West

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and in the UAE. The World Health Organisation, estimated that 17.9 million people died from CVD in 2017, representing 31 per cent of all global deaths. Of these deaths, 85 per cent were due to heart attacks or strokes.

Previous research has indicated that as many as 36 per cent of all deaths in the UAE are caused by cardiovascular disease, compared with 23.5 per cent in the United States.

Many major risk factors – blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity – can be controlled early in life and lower the risk of heart disease at a later stage.

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

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

A survey of 1,000 residents in the UAE, conducted by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi last year, found that 71 per cent respondents have at least one major risk factor for heart disease.

Dr Hasan said healthier habits needed to be instilled in people from a young age to prevent heart disease.

“Caring for the heart and prevention of disease should start early. By the time people are in their 40s and 50s, it is sometimes too late to reverse a lot of the damage done. Habits of a healthy diet and adequate activity levels need to be instilled earlier,” he said.

“There is also a very high prevalence of smoking among youngsters here. This is another major contributor for ischemic heart disease, a condition where plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries, obstructing blood flow to the heart muscle and ultimately causing a heart attack.”

According to a UAE University study last year, as many as 42 per cent of Emirati men are smokers, with large numbers smoking dokha with a medwakh pipe, which is even more harmful than using cigarettes.

Dr Hasan said an often overlooked risk factor for heart disease is good quality sleep.

“Often I see teenagers out late in the evening at the mall, which means that they are unable to get the right amount of sleep. Irregular and insufficient sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular disease because it disrupts biological processes like glucose metabolism and blood pressure.”

Doctors said the Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated these issues due to movement restrictions and changes in routine, which were necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.

Many people postponed hospital appointments to avoid potential exposure to the virus but doctors are now encouraging Emiratis and residents to book general check-ups again.