DUBAI // Smoking, stress, junk food and lack of exercise are creating heart-disease patients in the UAE 15 years earlier than in the West.
Heart disease is the world's leading cause of death. It claims 17.1 million lives a year, about 30 per cent of deaths worldwide, and accounts for 22 per cent of deaths in the UAE.
"People start coming in with heart problems at 45, 10 to 15 years younger than in Europe," Dr Obaid Al Jassim, a consultant and head of the cardiothoracic surgery department with Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said yesterday.
The UAE also has a disproportionate number of heart patients aged 20 to 40, the consultant said.
He was speaking at the launch of a DHA campaign linked to World Heart Day on September 29. The authority is aiming to screen 3,000 people for heart-disease risk factors.
"The World Health Organisation predicts that cardiovascular disease will continue to be No 1 until 2030, unless we do something major, such as working on the risk factors," said Dr Fahad Omar Baslaib, head of the cardiology unit at Rashid Hospital and president of the Emirates Cardiac Society.
"This is what we're trying to do today by providing screening and educating people about what it means to have a healthy lifestyle."
Public clinics in Dubai treat about 15,000 outpatients and more than 3,000 inpatients with cardiovascular diseases each year, and perform open-heart surgery on about 300 adults.
Dr Baslaib attributed these "alarming numbers" to an unhealthy lifestyle.
"People smoke, they do not exercise and eat a lot of junk food," he said. "Stress is also an important factor."
The leading cause of heart disease was diabetes, Dr Baslaib said, followed by smoking, lack of exercise and obesity.
"One in five people in the UAE have diabetes, placing us second worldwide," he said. "Diabetes can cause atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries in the heart."
The second main cause of heart problems was smoking, Dr Baslaib said. Smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack than are non-smokers.
"Every year Rashid Hospital admits more than 1,200 inpatients with heart problems," he said. "And about half of them experience a heart attack."
Throughout the campaign, the DHA will be screening for risk factors that may lead to heart problems. This includes measuring cholesterol and sugar levels in the blood, calculating body mass index and blood pressure, and a consultation with a doctor to translate the results into appropriate advice.
The screenings, which would normally cost Dh2,000 at a clinic or hospital, will be provided free during the campaign.
"We'll also be going into the labour camps in Jebel Ali," Dr Baslaib said.
Dr Khalifa Mohammed, a senior specialist in cardiology at Rashid Hospital, said employers had a responsibility to monitor their workers' health.
"Many of these labourers come from small villages and don't understand the risks of smoking and the preventive measures they can take to protect themselves, so their employers must educate them," he said.
"Employers receive the labourers in good health, and should do their best to send them back home healthy as well. For example, they should consider implementing no-smoking zones where work is conducted."
While genetics provided a base for susceptibility to heart disease, lifestyle habits could work as triggering factors, Dr Al Jassim said. Genetic predisposition towards heart disease in the UAE is only slightly higher than in the West because of marriage within families. "These [factors] work as building blocks," he said. "The risk increases when you add negative lifestyle habits."
The DHA is working with the Ministry of Education and the Emirates Cardiac Society to start a programme in schools and universities that will screen students and offer education on the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Dubai will also host the World Heart Federation's World Cardiology Conference in April, the first time it has taken place in the Middle East. The conference is expected to draw more than 15,000 international professionals from the healthcare industry.