Dubai: For the average working person in Dubai, a regular day may include lots of caffeine before and during work, a quick meal at the office with a side of snacks, hours of staring at a screen, and a box of fast food and TV time to end a very long day.

Repetitively living this day, however, could be what is leading a growing number of younger people to experience heart diseases and even heart attacks at an early age.

World Heart Day, which is annually observed on September 29 and held in conjunction with World Heart Federation (WHF) and World Health Organisation (WHO), focuses on the prevention and control of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

According to the WHO, a third of ischaemic heart disease cases are attributable to high cholesterol, which is estimated to cause 2.6 million deaths worldwide.

Here in the UAE, almost 50 per cent of the adult population are believed to be affected with cholesterol, a condition that has a direct link to a bad lifestyle and poor eating habits.

“Eating too many foods that are high in saturated fats and trans-fats may increase a person’s risk of developing high cholesterol. Other lifestyle factors such as inactivity and smoking can also contribute to high cholesterol,” said Dr Abdullah Shehab (right), President, Emirates Cardiac Society, Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Al Ain Hospital.

High cholesterol can lead to the formation of clots in the arteries that can cause heart attacks, strokes and narrowing of the blood vessels, he told Gulf News.

“While previously, it was the norm to see people of an older age group suffering from high cholesterol and the resultant heart conditions, these days more younger people – some in their 20s and 30s – are suffering from this condition,” added Dr Shehab.

The troubling trend means that more individuals have a higher risk of developing high cholesterol if they are overweight, obese, have an unhealthy diet, don’t exercise regularly or are smokers.

“Urgent public health measures such as education and awareness, especially during one’s formative years, as well as further screening programmes, are required to tackle the issue,” said Dr Shehab.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an important element that is manufactured by the liver and needed for our bodies to function properly.

“Cholesterol can also be introduced from nutrition, and it plays a fundamental role in digesting foods, generating vitamin D, producing hormones, and immunoglobulins that can protect us against infection and tumour cells,” explained Dr Faouzi Safadi (right), Consultant Surgeon in Cardiothoracic Surgery Department at Dubai Hospital.

He pointed out that cholesterol becomes a major risk factor of heart disease when it reaches dangerous and pathologic high levels associated with bad lipoprotein profile, leading to the formation of plaques in the walls of coronary arteries.

Over time, this can significantly narrow the arteries and impede blood flow within the body leading to atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease.

Does having cholesterol mean I will have heart disease?

Conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and stress can cause direct ulcerations and cracks on the inner layer of coronary arteries. As a result, they open the doors for cholesterol molecules to penetrate and accumulate into the middle layer of arteries, explained Dr Safadi.

“A 50 to 60 per cent of stenotic (narrowed) coronary artery remains silent and doesn’t cause any symptoms for the patient, but it doesn’t mean that the artery is healthy. When the stenosis increases to 70 to 80 per cent, the patient starts having chest pain, which then happens more frequently with progress,” explained Dr Safadi.

While a bad lifestyle and eating habits can contribute to a 40 per cent chance of developing high levels of blood cholesterol, the condition can also be hereditary.

However, to prevent the accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries, a patient suffering from cholesterol should continue to focus on lifestyle management that goes beyond eating right and exercising.

“Some key practices include consciously stressing less, being positive and trying to enjoy the little things in life, not exposing yourself to excessive emotional or physical effort, meditation and prayers, and simply enjoying your life, your family and your friends,” advised Dr Safadi.

Heart health a global challenge

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally. To manage it, people need access to affordable medication like aspirin, statin and blood pressure pills.

Sign and symptoms 

1. Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back.
2. Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.
3. Shortness of breath.
4. Cold sweat.
5. Fatigue.
6. Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

Risk factors

Age: If you are over the age of 65, your risk of a heart attack is greater.

Gender: Men are more at risk than women.

Family history: If you have a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, or diabetes, you’re more at risk.

Race: People of African descent have a higher risk.

How to reduce risk

■  Avoid tobacco and alcohol
■  Manage blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol
■  Healthy diet
■  Physical activity

In numbers

17.7 million deaths every year from cardiovascular disease, which is 31% of all global deaths.  

1.1 billion adults have high blood pressure. 

70% of the UAE population either has some form of cardiovascular disease, or is at risk.

30% of all deaths in UAE due to cardiovascular disease.

300 per 100,000 people die from cardiovascular disease in the UAE. The UAE aims to reduce this to 150 by 2021.

45 years age of onset of cardiovascular disease in the UAE. The international average is 65.

20% of the UAE’s adult population smokes.

50% of the UAE’s adult population has high cholesterol.