Abu Dhabi: A substantial percentage of UAE patients undergoing cardiovascular surgery across the country live with diabetes, medical consultants have told Gulf News.

The percentage ranges between 20-40 of these patients, Gulf News learned from the sidelines of the Medical Congress - currently in its third and final day in Abu Dhabi.

"A person can live with diabetes type 2 up to ten years and not know it unless given the proper screening programme and advice. In the meantime, that can encourage a heart condition," said Dr Peder Bagger, Consultant Cardiologist at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre highlighting the importance of diagnosing and treating cardiovascular diseases early among diabetics.

People with diabetes undergo pre-mature ageing of the vessels that encourages conditions such as cardiac, eye and renal diseases, added the doctor.

Since diabetes affects young people in their 30s across the UAE, Bagger advises people to check their blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar every three to five years.

"Obesity and the prevalence of diabetes is almost becoming an epidemic and the danger is that most diabetics do not show early symptoms," he told Gulf News.

Diabetics should also be aware of the risk factors involved with their condition.

"Our main concern is to encourage people to get rid of obesity, which would solve everything. It would be ideal if supermarkets could have weighing machines placed at the entrance for people to weigh themselves before and after they shop. Maybe that would make them reluctant to buy too much food," added the doctor with humour.

Dr Heitham T. Hassoun, Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon from Johns Hopkins Baltimore, spoke to Gulf News about the importance of dedicating a vascular lab and cardiovascular clinic to diabetic patients.

New tower

"Diabetics with cardiovascular diseases require a separate infrastructure and management of heart conditions, especially with a population as young as the UAE which is clearly becoming an older population with the prevalence of diabetes," said Hassoun, whose also performed cardiovascular surgery on 50 diabetic patients at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain.

Johns Hopkins Baltimore is currently building a tower to specialise in cardiovascular conditions, to be called the Shaikh Zayed centre. "I hope a similar centre for diabetics and specialised in cardiovascular conditions is built in the UAE too," added Hassoun.

Reducing the risk

The Abu Dhabi Health Authority approach to cardiovascular risk factor prevention focuses on four main areas:

- Weqaya Screening: More than 75,000 Emiratis over the age of 18 have been screened since May 2008 for cardiovascular conditions

- School Health: ensuring regular exercise and providing healthy meals in school through the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) and school nurses

- Obesity Campaigns: building basic knowledge, 50 simple tips for improving weight control, encouraging healthy behaviour and improving access to regular exercise.

- Urban Planning Council: adding further green spaces for children to play, increase the use of stairs, and ensure the availability of healthy food by 2030.