Armed Forces enrolment presents doctors with chance to identify genetic defects that could go undiagnosed
UAE National Service recruits screened for heart conditions in drive to save lives
Thousands of National Service recruits are being screened for heart disease for the first time in a bid to cut the number of deaths among young people.
Doctors are concerned about the high prevalence of genetic conditions among the population but in Emiratis in particular.
“National Service now have routine screening for all the young men and if there is anything abnormal, they are referred to a cardiologist," said Dr Hani Sabbour, from the Cardiology, Heart and Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
Physicians said a number of conditions have no obvious symptoms and young people with a heart problem would not be diagnosed unless they spotted the signs themselves.
The chance to screen large groups of young people at a time could save lives.
The physician pointed to research that shows about half of all sudden cardiac-related deaths occur without prior symptoms.
It is not one disease but four genetic disorders that can cause sudden deaths in young people.
Mostly common is Brugada syndrome, a condition that causes a disruption of the heart's normal rhythm, followed by Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which is caused when the proteins that hold the heart muscle together do not develop properly.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy sees the heart thicken and the organ struggle to pump blood properly, while ventricular fibrillation arrhythmias is when the heart beats with rapid, erratic electrical impulses.
There are no reliable statistics for the number of people who suffer from these disorders in the Middle East, but since genetic diseases are prevalent here, doctors estimate that the numbers are “high”.
“If you have anybody who has a family history, where a young person who is healthy suddenly died without warning and without symptoms – died in their sleep or at work - that family needs to be seen by a cardiologist in order to evaluate if they have one of these disorders," Dr Sabbour said.
Thirty per cent of sudden deaths in young people is linked to one of four heart diseases.
“There are no warnings, the first thing that happens is that the heart just stops,” he said.
"There is no chest pain, patients just suddenly collapse."
He said that according to a military hospital registry that has been developed since 2010, about 150 people have been diagnosed with Brugada syndrome.
“This is only at one hospital and if you think of the population of Abu Dhabi, and the fact these are only the patients that were detected because they had a cardiac arrest and were resuscitated, then the actual number is probably triple that,” he said.
“I have a patient, a police officer who was playing football with his friends, and he just collapsed.
"He was fortunate that his whole group had just completed basic CPR training so they started CPR and called 999.
"They had a defibrillator so immediately it shocked him and brought him back to life. We did genetic testing on him and it was abnormal so we invited his family for genetic testing and to be evaluated.
“These are rare disorders but very dangerous. Patients who have a family history must seek the care of a cardiologist.”
He said Cleveland Clinic sees four to five patients a week who suffer from a genetic heart disorder.
“All our patients here have an implantation that is being remotely monitored and always connected to our system," he said, allowing them to live normal lives while they are monitored.
In the past year, over 200 patients have these implanted devices.