UAE residents at high risk of 'silent killer' blood fat disease

Dyslipidaemia was found to be highly prevalent in expats and Emiratis

Between 10,000 and 12,000 people suffer strokes in the UAE each year, with 50 per cent of victims aged under 45. Silvia Razgova / The National
Between 10,000 and 12,000 people suffer strokes in the UAE each year, with 50 per cent of victims aged under 45. Silvia Razgova / The National

A 'silent disease' linked to heart attacks and strokes has been found to be far more prevalent in the UAE than other countries.

Nearly three-quarters of Emiratis suffer from dyslipidaemia - a potentially deadly condition associated with abnormal fat levels in their blood - a new study by University of Sharjah medics revealed.

A follow-up study that has not been published yet found the prevalence in non-Emiratis was even higher, at 76 per cent.

This figure is much higher than in the United States - often used as a bellwether for obesity-related diseases - where prevalence is about 53 per cent.

Dyslipidaemia is a silent disease — it doesn’t give you symptoms early. It can lead to cardiovascular disease and premature death

Dr Ibrahim Mahmoud, College of Medicine, University of Sharjah

Dyslipidaemia is often associated with heart disease, which is the UAE’s main cause of death, being responsible for 37 per cent of fatalities, as well as strokes.

The report's authors called for better monitoring of people at risk and said residents should exercise and improve their diet.

Dr Ibrahim Mahmoud, from University of Sharjah, said he believes lifestyle factors are to blame.

“There are a lot of fast-food restaurants, food is cheap compared to the income of most of the population, and it’s very hot so the people usually they don’t do much physical activity,” he said.

Speaking about the upcoming study on non-Emiratis, Dr Mahmoud said the prevalence too could be put down to lifestyle factors.

“[Expats] work for long hours and eat fast food and junk food. That might be one of the reasons why they have very high prevalence,” he said.

Blood tests were carried out on more than 800 Emirati men and women from the Northern Emirates to determine the prevalence of the condition, which is often associated with obesity.

Overall, 72.5 per cent of those tested had dyslipidaemia, with most cases involving high levels of harmful types of cholesterol, which can lead to fatty deposits in blood vessels.

Among the 824 Emiratis analysed, 42.8 per cent had high total levels of cholesterol, while 29 per cent had high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat linked to heart disease. Also, 38.6 per cent had high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), often called bad cholesterol.

In addition, 42.5 per cent had low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), typically described as good cholesterol.

A further result was that 72.3 per cent of people tested had a high cholesterol ratio, which is the ratio of total cholesterol to good cholesterol.

People who were middle aged, obese or who had diabetes tended to be more likely to have potentially harmful levels of the substances.

The findings were published in the respected BMJ Open, linked to the British Medical Journal, and co-authored by Prof Nabil Sulaiman, a department head in the University of Sharjah’s College of Medicine.

The UAE already faces well documented challenges with high a rate of strokes, recording about 10,000 cases per year.

About 50 per cent of all patients in the UAE are under the age of 45, compared with the global average of 80 per cent being 65 or older.

Doctors across the globe cite years of eating fatty foods, drinking alcohol and smoking as triggers in an older population, but it is not clear why so many younger people are suffering strokes in the Emirates.

Screening of those most at risk of the dyslipidaemia is important, Dr Mahmoud said, as it can easily go undetected.

“There are some studies that show that dyslipidaemia is a silent disease — it doesn’t give you symptoms early,” he said.

“We need to do health education about the risk of dyslipidaemia. It can lead to cardiovascular disease and premature death.”

Encouraging people to exercise and to eat a healthier diet is also recommended, with foods such as nuts and avocado helping to increase levels in the blood of healthy cholesterol.

Published: November 24, 2019 08:00 AM


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