The incidence of congenital heart disease is much higher in the UAE than the global average
Children with heart defects at greater risk from caffeine: doctors
Global figures for congenital heart disease run at about 10 in every 1,000 live births, say doctors in Dubai who warn that high caffeine intake can pose further risks to children with undiagnosed cardiac conditions.
Most genetic abnormalities are picked up in pre-natal scans or shortly after birth but, in some rare cases, children with heart abnormalities can slip through the net.
While worldwide the incidence of congenital heart disease is about 1 per cent of all live births, the incidence in the UAE is much higher, at between 3 to 5 per cent.
“Because of greater awareness and better technology, fewer cases are going undiagnosed,” said Dr Mohamed Hamdan, a paediatric cardiologist at the Kids Heart Medical Centre, which has clinics in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain.
“It depends on the size of the defect as to the seriousness of the condition. With a hole in the heart, most do well but require a surgical intervention.
“Sometimes it can be too late to act. If it goes undiagnosed, it can significantly limit their life span and they are more likely to suffer complications.”
Dr Hamdan said the distribution of cardiac defects in the UAE tend to be more complex, in part due to consanguineous marriages.
Heart problems can be instigated through poorly controlled maternal diabetes, chromosomal anomalies and rubella infections.
Primary indicators can be a heart murmur and low oxygen levels in the blood but, as the child grows up, physical symptoms can be a clear warning something is wrong.
Dr Sweta Swaminath, a specialist in general paediatrics at NMC Royal Hospital, said young people should avoid caffeine, as the effects could be serious if a child has an undiagnosed heart condition.
“The child will generally have recurring respiratory problems, be underweight or height despite a required energy intake [if they have an undiagnosed heart condition],” she said.
“They can become fatigued and will not appear well, both pallid in complexion and an appearance of being undernourished when this may not be the case.
“Caffeine itself tends to kick-start the heart and makes it work harder.”
Minor problems can present themselves during exercise, such as excess sweating, fatigue or even fainting.
“This could suggest they have an irregular heartbeat, which can be aggravated by caffeine, which triggers the heart rate,” added Dr Swaminath.
“These problems can manifest and result in palpitations, or nervousness.
“It is putting extra stress on the heart and can put them into heart failure if paired with a high dose of caffeine.”