AL AIN // As many as 45 per cent of all deaths in the Middle East are caused by coronary artery disease, a global health conference heard this week. Dr Tarik Ramahi, cardiologist and visiting professor in Middle East Studies at Yale University, said the disease was "very complex, has no clearly defined cause but well defined risk factors, begins early in life and has no cure". Addressing delegates to the Global Health and the UAE: Asia-Middle East Connections Conference at the UAE University in Al Ain, Dr Ramahi said coronary heart disease had emerged as the leading cause of death in most countries in the Middle East over the past few decades, and that it was the leading cause of death in the UAE.
"This is the disease of the era, the disease of our generation," Dr Ramahi said. "It is a disease of globalisation and is highly prevalent in affluent countries, where 85 per cent of cases are registered." Atherosclerosis - in which arterial walls thicken and harden because of a build-up of fats - starts in childhood but does not become clinically apparent until midlife, Dr Ramahi said. The disease is exacerbated by high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, stress, high blood pressure and a diet rich in fats, simple sugars and sodium.
With the population of the Middle East predominantly young, and a high prevalence of risk factors in the region, Dr Ramahi spoke of an "impending crisis." "This young population will age, will continue to eat, will lead sedentary lifestyles and will develop heart disease," he said. He said the UAE represented a microcosm of the global situation. "It really is quite a bleak picture and calls for tremendous organised action at every level, starting with prevention," Dr Ramahi said. "A change in lifestyle is called for."