Abu Dhabi, UAE: Nearly nine out of ten people in the UAE are at risk of cardiovascular disease and one out of three of those is unaware of the fact.
A survey by the Emirates Cardiac Society of more than 4,000 people also revealed that people who discovered they were at risk did not seek medical help, mostly because they did not feel unwell.
Diabetes, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and a family history of cardiovascular disease are all risk factors.
Dr Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, the president of the ECS, said: “The findings are alarming. The risk factors may not have any symptoms and people don’t go to doctors because they don’t feel unwell.
“It’s not part of the culture here to go see the doctor if you have a headache or high blood pressure. People have to understand that they need to check for risk factors.”
The study looked at the prevalence of cardiac risk factors, whether screening was useful and what happened when people were made aware of the fact that they had a risk factor.
Dr Alsheikh-Ali said 85 per cent had at least one – with 30 per cent of those screened having high blood pressure, of which only 17 per cent knew of their condition.
“The magnitude of the problem is huge. The second thing is the average age is very low and, as the population ages, there will be huge economic consequences,” he said.
Engaging people in the community was the way forward, the cardiologist said. “We can’t tell why people are not seeking help. It is maybe because they have no health insurance or people don’t perceive it as a risk,” Dr Alsheikh-Ali said.
The researchers screened people – three quarters of whom were male and who had an average age of 38 – at four shopping malls, nine healthcare facilities, and three labour camps in five cities in UAE.
Dr Hani Sabbour, consultant cardiologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, said that the incidence of severe heart disease presented itself 11 years earlier in Arabian Gulf countries compared with the United States and Europe.
“One of the youngest patients I saw was a 19-year-old who had a massive heart attack and had a blocked artery. This is almost unheard of in western medical literature,” Dr Sabbour said.
A lot of patients who have heart failure did not know their heart was weak, the doctor said.
“The understanding of the link between heart disease and diabetes and cholesterol is challenging because young people don’t have symptoms. Young people think ‘I don’t feel bad so why should I take medication?’,” he said.
Dr Sabbour said that patients might be reluctant to see a doctor, but if they were counselled properly, they would seek help. The problem needed to be addressed very early, Dr Sabbour said.
Dr Abdul Razzak Alkaddour, consultant physician and head of the smoke-cessation clinic at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, said many people did not recognise smoking as a risk factor in cardiac disease.
“The culture of prevention does not exist in this part of the world and there is very little education about this in school or at university,” he said.
The study, titled Opportunistic Screening for CVD Risk Factors, The Dubai Shopping for Cardiovascular Risk Study, was conducted in 2013 and was released last month in the World Heart Federation’s journal, Global Heart.
© The NationalOct 2015