Study: 1 in 4 Saudis headed for heart attack

2014 01 30 17 09 48 927 Human Heart 200

Within the next 10 years, one-fourth of all adults in Saudi Arabia will have a heart attack, according to research presented at the Saudi Heart Association (SHA) annual conference underway this week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The study examined the prevalence of risk factors for heart disease in nearly 5,000 Saudis older than 20 years who did not have a history of heart disease. The researchers calculated the subjects' risk of a heart attack or death using the Framingham Risk Score.

Diabetes was a huge risk factor for heart disease, and its prevalence was high even though most of the cohort was young, according to lead author Dr. Muhammad Adil Soofi, a cardiologist from King Fahad Medical City. Most of the people in the study were younger than 40 (85%), and 55% were women.

In the study population, fully one-quarter of the subjects had diabetes, while 34% had hypertension, 25% were smokers, 27% were obese, 86% performed no regular physical exercise, and 19% had dyslipidemia. Owing to their many risk factors, 26% of the participants were at high risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack within 10 years.

Urbanization, a lack of education, and Westernization could be to blame for the unhealthy lifestyles of young Saudis, Soofi said in a statement.

"They eat more fast food and deep fried items and on top of that do not exercise," he said. "Atherosclerosis, obesity, and other risk factors set in at a very early stage and ultimately lead to heart attacks and even death at a young age."

How big a factor was diabetes? When diabetics were excluded from the analysis, the 10-year risk of heart attack or death fell to just over 4% of the population.

"Diabetes and other risk factors start at an early age in Saudi Arabia," Soofi said. Looking only at participants younger than 30 years, 14% were diabetic, 27% were obese, 31% were smokers, and 77% had sedentary lifestyles.

"So it's a whole package that will lead to heart disease in a decade," he said.

A key problem in the Gulf States is that they have sophisticated tertiary care for heart disease but no primary prevention programs, added SHA President Dr. Khalid Al Habib. Prevention needs to start immediately "so that children and young people do not spend their adult life with diabetes and heart disease," he said.

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