A team of researchers from the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University in Canada recently undertook a study to determine how common are the main risk factors for heart disease in the Middle East region.

They systematically reviewed research studies on this subject that were published between January 1980 and April 2005. They limited their survey to studies done in the Middle East that were published in English which included at least 1000 participants – and looked for prevalence in these study populations of at least one of the following known risk factors for heart disease

  • diabetes mellitus
  • obesity (body mass index greater than 30)
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • smoking

Prevalence of Cardiac Risk Factors in Middle East

Their findings showed that there is a high prevalence of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking in the Middle East. Interestingly, smoking was more common among men than women, whereas obesity and high blood pressure were more common in women.

The authors draw the conclusion that cardiovascular disease – the cause of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes – will be a major health problem in the Middle East in the years to come.

Food Intake Patterns

Another interesting study done in Iran last year drew attention to the link between risk factors for heart disease and patterns of food intake in a population. Although this link has been reported in studies from Europe and America, few data are available at present for Middle Eastern countries.

Studies have revealed marked differences between Middle Eastern countries and other countries in the prevalence of low levels of HDL-cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) and high levels of triglycerides in the blood. For example low serum HDL-cholesterol is seen in 37% of adults in the US compared to 69% of Middle Eastern populations. Genetic factors alone could not explain these discrepancies – and it may be postulated that lifestyle-related factors, including diet, could be the reason – because consumption of high-carbohydrate diets (mostly from refined sources) that are high in hydrogenated fats is widely prevamlent in Middle Eastern countries.

Medical Services at Sheikh Khalifah Medical City

Says Dr. Wael Almahmeed, Consultant Cardiologist and Deputy Director of Medical Services at Sheikh Khalifah Medical City in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates: “Looking at the research, our feeling is that we could be on the edge of a potentially serious epidemic of heart-related ailments in the Middle East – particularly since so many of the subjects were unaware of their conditions. Problems like hypertension or even diabetes can be asymptomatic in the early stages, so patients are unaware of the problems they face.

“It reinforces the need for greater awareness and supports our belief that patients should consult their doctors to have their blood pressure tested and cholesterol measured on a regular basis.”

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