With more and more people dying from heart attacks at younger ages than ever before, and with September 29th recognized as World Heart Day, HEALTH presents an in-depth guide to optimal heart health
HEART ATTACKS IN YOUNGER AGE GROUPS
These days, it is not uncommon to hear about younger people suffering from heart related issues. To further elaborate, Specialist and Head of Cardiology Department Dr. Ehab M. Esheiba explains that the change of lifestyle from healthy to unhealthy patterns has led to the increased prevalence of heart diseases in younger populations. “These patterns may include: a lack of regular exercise, unhealthy dietary habits, being overweight, and smoking,” he notes. “Also, some conditions that lead to increased risk on the heart are the presence of elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, and elevated cholesterol in the blood.” However, he is quick to add that most of these “risk factors” can be modified by adapting a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, it is also well-established that some familial and genetic factors play roles towards the occurrence of diseases in younger generations.
Dr. Ehab points out that it is unfortunate that medical experts are currently seeing patients in their twenties and thirties with diseases or related risks, like elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, and elevated cholesterol in the blood frequently during daily clinical practice. He elaborates, “We see patients with acute heart attacks, which can range from just mild narrowing of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart (coronary arteries) to complete block of these arteries. These are generally emergency cases and lifethreatening if not diagnosed and treated properly in time.” He also observes, in routine daily practice, patients who are at risk to develop future heart problems (those with the risk factors stated earlier). Weakening of the heart, referred to as heart failure, is also seen again as a consequence to these risk factors, especially if they were not properly controlled for long duration, he explains.
The Young versus the Old
As the human body grows older, also internal organs grow older. The arteries throughout the body grow and become relatively stiffer over time, a process called “arteriosclerosis” or simply “hardening of the arteries”, explains Dr. Ehab. This process, although naturally occurring with aging, can develop at younger ages pre-maturely. “Familial and genetic factors play a role here, however, aggressive arteriosclerosis can occur at earlier ages in patients with multiple and uncontrolled risk factors,” he adds.
Heart attacks and related disorders are seen nowadays in younger generations. But due to the expansion of knowledge and public awareness, Dr. Ehab points out people tend now to have their
heart checked on a routine basis. “It is here we diagnose the younger population with risk factors like diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels or hypertension,” he explains and at this point, addressing these conditions will have a significant impact on the future outcome and prevention of diseases.
The Role of Genetics
It’s noteworthy to mention that genetics play an important roles towards the occurrence of cardiac risk factors at younger ages, states Dr. Ehab. “This may include diabetes mellitus and abnormal
lipid metabolism, which in turn, can progress to heart diseases in future,”he says, but again, regular checkup and evaluation will categorize each patient according to the family history and risk factors and from there, management plan can start
Prevention is better than the cure, stresses Dr. Ehab and applicable in the setting of heart diseases. “When we see patients with their first presentation with disease, we commonly find other hidden problems in their bodies that had not been recognized earlier, talking specifically about the earlier mentioned risk factors,” he says and statistics from around the globe confirmed that early diagnosis and proper treatment of control of such modifiable risk factors can significantly delay and protect the heart from complications.
Lifestyle and Heart Health
Dr. Ehab advises the first step to address heart diseases and related risks are “lifestyle modification”, in other words, risk factors control. “While genetic factors or family history cannot be treated, most of the risk factors can be successfully targeted by just lifestyle modification,” he explains and in fact, lifestyle changes can protect the heart in all population. Such changes significantly
modify the risk factors too. For example: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol, can all be addressed initially by lifestyle modification. “What we mean by that is simply shifting your daily routine lifestyle from an inactive, unhealthy, and sedentary one to a healthier and active lifestyle,” he notes. “Typically, we speak about daily exercise (just moderate level exercise daily for around 40 minutes), a healthy and balanced diet (dietitian advice may also be required) as well as smoking cessation, all as essential aspects in risk factors modification.”
(Credit: Dr. Ehab M. Esheiba, Specialist and Head of Cardiology Department at Thumbay Hospital, Ajman)