UAE: Why are more residents under 30 suffering heart attacks?

Studies suggest genetics, lifestyle changes, dietary habits and stress as some factors for the condition

By SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Thu 26 May 2022, 7:05 PM

Last updated: Fri 27 May 2022, 12:59 PM

Mujahid Hussain is 29 years of age, but he's lucky to be alive. The expat managed to survive a massive heart attack, thanks to timely medical help.

Hussain is one among several UAE residents below 30 who have suffered cardiac issues, and doctors are shocked at the rising incidence of young people developing heart problems in the UAE.

Sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy eating habits, stress and obesity are the primary causes behind young people developing cardiac problems, doctors say.

The numbers say it all.

Coming back to Hussain, a painter by profession, the expat does not have any lifestyle diseases; nor was he on any medication and he has never had any chronic conditions.

So, when the youth who works at a maintenance company in Jebel Ali, felt mild pain in his chest, he did not make much of it and continued with his duty. “The pain was mild. Though it was a bit disconcerting, it was manageable. I thought it was probably because of some gastric issues and went away in a while,” recalled Hussain.

However, that night, he suddenly began experiencing sharp pain in his chest. “It was around 1am in the morning. I was sleeping and woke up with severe pain in my chest. It wasn’t anything I had experienced before. I began sweating profusely. I could not even breathe. I called some friends who rushed me to a nearby clinic,” Hussain said.

Seeing his condition, the clinic referred him to Aster Hospital, Mankhool. He was struggling when he reached the hospital, with severe chest pain, profuse sweating, and difficulty in breathing.

At the hospital, the team swung into emergency mode and conducted a series of tests and scans. Dr Debabrata Dash, consultant interventional cardiology at Aster Hospital, Mankhool, said Hussain had acute anteroseptal ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) — or in layman terms a full-blown heart attack.

It was caused by the complete blockage of an artery in his heart, Dr Dash said. “STEMI is often called a ‘widowmaker heart attack’ because most of the victims are men. Timely intervention is critical — any delay in treatment can result in death,” he added.

A coronary angioplasty was carried out, and the condition was treated, said Dr Dash. Hussain was discharged in two days, and is now under medication.

Doctors believe that in Hussain’s case, the attack was largely due to hereditary factors, as he did not have any underlying conditions or suffered from any lifestyle diseases.

In another incident, Salahuddin, 32, who was a chain smoker, but did suffer from any lifestyle diseases, also came to know the bitter truth the hard way.

One fine day, he had severe gastric-trouble and began feeling extremely uneasy. Before he could realise what was happening, he went into a full-blown cardiac arrest and collapsed. He was rushed to LLH Hospital, in Musaffah, Abu Dhabi by his friends, where doctors performed CPR for about 50 minutes. They also administered 15 electric shocks to revive him. The doctors’ then performed an emergency angioplasty and managed to save him.

Doctors said Salahuddin had a history of chain smoking, which is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and that was the cause of the heart attack.

Dr Chaudhary said that there is no single answer on why cardiac issues are affecting residents at such a young age, but studies suggest genetics, lifestyle changes, dietary habits and stress as some of the likely risk factors.

He also pointed out that in the last 20 years, there has been a tremendous change in the lifestyle of people in the UAE. “Our physical activities have decreased, we have started eating more fried and fatty fast food, we have all moved to a sedentary office lifestyle, cigarette smoking has increased, consumption of alcohol has increased, the incidence of hypertension, diabetes, obesity and dyslipidaemia is increasing in pandemic proportion,” explained Dr Chaudhary.

When risk factors increase and there is a change in lifestyle, combined with a decrease in physical activities, it leads to an increase in psychosocial stress, and all this contributes to the onset or occurrence of heart attacks at a much younger age, he pointed out.

Dr Chaudhary also said the the younger generation’s eagerness to achieve a lot as quickly as possible, may also be a contributing factor. “This eagerness to achieve everything puts immense psychological and emotional stress and that is one of the major risk factors,” he said.

Dr Ajay Kaul, consultant, chief cardiothoracic vascular surgeon and chair of cardio-vascular, RAK Hospital, said. “Increased incidents of heart diseases or heart attacks among the younger population are due to a rise in stress levels owing to performance pressure at work.”

“Ethnicity also plays a big role, as we have observed that people from the Indian subcontinent are more prone to heart issues than their western counterparts,” said Dr Kaul.

So is there a way to predict heart attack or risk of CVD? Yes, say doctors.

These include risk scores and novel biomarkers such as hsCRP, lipoprotein, Apo B/A ratio, calcium score on CT coronary angiography that helps stratify patients into low, intermediate, and high risk categories.

“But if you are asking, can we accurately predict heart attacks, the answer is no. The best one can do is focus on modifying or prevention of known risk factors, especially staying away from stress and smoking — the leading killers,” said Dr Chaudhary.

Don’t worry be happy

Leading a healthy, happy life along with regular check ups will go a long way in keeping you safe.

Dr Jose John, specialist cardiologist, LLH Hospital Musaffah, said that lifestyle management is the single most effective shield in preventing us from any heart disease.

“A healthy routine can help us in mitigating the risk of a heart attack,” said Dr John.

“Traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, hyperlipidaemia, diabetes mellitus and hypertension are the most common causes of heart attacks in young individuals, accounting for almost 90 per cent of cases,” added Dr John.

Covid and heart problems

While cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes as major risk factors for heart diseases, after the pandemic, people previously infected with Covid-19 have reported a rising incidence of cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular problems, including abnormal heart rhythms, heart muscle inflammation, blood clots, strokes, heart attack, and heart failure have witnessed a marked increase among Covid-infected, including those who had mild infection, said UAE doctors.

Dr Dash said: “If this is any indication, Covid-19 can be a serious risk factor. Anyone experiencing a sudden onset of symptoms such as chest pain, intense muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and palpitation within 12 months of Covid infection should get a cardiovascular check-up.”

How do we fight back?

There are some factors such as age, gender and race that cannot be changed. However, risk factors such as smoking, obesity, stress, sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits are modifiable factors that can be changed. Countries such as Japan, Korea and France have the lowest rates of heart disease because they eat healthy and exercise regularly — it’s their way of living that renders them at a lower risk of CVD.

Cardiovascular diseases in the UAE

  • Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) is a one of the leading cause of deaths in the UAE and worldwide, followed by cancer, road accidents
  • According to MoHAP, the death rate from CVD in the UAE in the last couple of years was 70-80 per one hundred thousand population
  • In the UAE, 1 in every 3 deaths is from CVD
  • The total number of deaths from CVD in the UAE till 1990 stood at one million. The same has soared to seven million by 2017 — a seven to eight-fold increase
  • Almost half the patients who visit MoHAP facilities with CVD are young — age 35 or below.

Cardiovascular worldwide

    What can one do to prevent CVD?

      Courtesy: Dr Rahul, Dr Dash and Dr Kaul

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