Unhealthy lifestyles to blame for increase in strokes in UAE, doctors say
DUBAI // Unhealthy lifestyles among young people is contributing to the increasing number of stroke victims below the age of 45, doctors said on Monday.
A sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, increased blood sugar, hypertension, diabetes and high levels of blood cholesterol are all stroke risk factors that people can reverse by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Dr Suhail Al Rukn, consultant stroke specialist at Rashid Hospital, said that if a person runs or cycles three times a week for 30 minutes they can decrease their risk of stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes by 25 per cent.
People can reverse risk factors, he said, by “controlling high blood pressure and taking medication, controlling sugar, blood cholesterol, heart disease, stop smoking and doing exercise”. If a person cuts their salt intake by 50 per cent, they cut down their risk of high blood pressure by about 20 to 30 per cent.
Dr Al Rukn, who is the president of the Emirates Neurology Society, also said that people are ignoring the symptoms of stroke, which means physicians are not able to get to them on time.
Sudden weakness, sudden, acute headache or unclear speech are some of the symptoms.
Dr Al Rukn said that people brush aside these symptoms as weakness, exhaustion or stress, and don’t go to the hospital.
“In three minutes of the stroke, the brain starts to die and, in the first minute of the stroke, the person loses two million brain cells and this is irreversible,” said Dr Al Rukn.
Smoking cigarettes or shisha or even drinking energy drinks are indirectly linked to stroke, as they can lead to conditions that increase the risk of stroke.
Dr Vijai Chandran, specialist in Interventional Neuro-Radiology at Burjeel Hospital, said the demography of stroke patients in the UAE is different from India, where he comes from.
“In India, the age is much higher. In UAE, the age is lower. Strokes are extremely common in people who have a unhealthy lifestyle,” he said, adding that genetics and lifestyle have a lot to do with predisposing people to have a stroke at an earlier age.
As the UAE does not have statistics, it is hard to conclude whether genetics or lifestyle play a greater role. “It would be easier if we had earlier statistics for say, the year 2000, when the lifestyle was different, but the genetic predisposition would be the same,” said Dr Chandran. “If we knew what the stroke rate was at that time, we would know that the increase that has happened over the past few years is entirely due to alteration of lifestyle.”
Bad nutrition, inadequate exercise, a desk job, stress at work or home and inadequate care of other conditions such as hypertension and diabetes are all risk factors for stroke, he said.
People who have Atrial fibrillation (AF), an irregular heartbeat, are five times more likely to suffer from a stroke. Though many people suffer from AF in the UAE, often they don’t get screened, as AF is asymptomatic in most cases.
Dr Nooshin Bazargani, board member of the World Heart Federation and chairwoman of the prevention group of Emirates Cardiac Society, said that “physicians are not trained to detect Atrial fibrillation in the UAE”.
“Over the age of 50, every patient should get a screening to have an echocardiogram test, which can diagnose AF,” she said, adding: “People aren’t getting screened because they don’t have insurance.”
AF almost doubles the death rate from a stroke and increases the risk of a stroke happening again. Ten thousand people suffered strokes last year in the UAE, and it is the third-leading cause of death worldwide, after cancer and cardiac disease.
Updated: May 2, 2016 04:00 AM