Muscat: People as young as 24 are suffering neurological strokes and heart attacks in Oman, a condition earlier prevalent only among those above 50, a fact senior medics underlined with concern. New, plugged in, sedentary lifestyles are becoming a ticking health time-bomb for the young, as various life threatening conditions previously known to occur from middle age are striking the younger generation.
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Dr. R.R. Sharma, senior consultant and neurosurgeon at the Atlas Hospital in Oman, said while the phenomenon is global, it is more prevalent in the Gulf countries.
Dr. Sharma, who has been working in Oman for almost three decades now, and has experience of both public and private sector, noted that the change in lifestyle from healthy to sedentary, is increasingly contributing to the situation.
“It is true that younger people are suffering strokes and it is happening not only in the Middle East, but globally. Only the rate varies. In the Middle East and South East Asia, it is far higher than in many other places in the world and there definitely is a reason for that,” he said.
Along with better documentation of stroke cases over the years, and with the help of modern techniques, Dr. Sharma says lifestyle factors such as unhealthy food habits, increasing stress levels, diabetes and cholesterol are contributing to the prevalence of strokes in the region.
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“People are resorting to eating at restaurants and junk food joints and are ignoring healthy home cooked food. Salads and fruits have been taken over by fried foods,” he added.
Another important factor is stress, Dr. Sharma said.
“Performance on the job has become a criterion for progress and people are increasingly trying to better that to achieve success. This also leads to a habit of smoking, which is another contributing factor. We see people having heart attacks at 25 or 30 years of age.”
“All these factors give rise to diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, and all of these have implications for the body,” he added.
Dr Sharma also mentioned that Oman and the region experience intense heat, especially in the summer months. So when one is on the move, even normal dehydration makes one’s blood thick, because people are not taking pure water.
“People mostly consume soft drinks and energy drinks, which might give immediate relief from the heat but their long term implications are bad. Heavy consumption of alcohol is bad, too,” he said.
Dr Sharma came to Oman in 1988 and has worked for several hospitals in the country. He said since his initial years in Oman, trends have changed to an overwhelming extent.
“There are now more nuclear families, sometimes patients don’t have anyone to look after, food habits have gone astray, physical exercise is not happening and stress levels have increased. All these factors have an enormous impact on the population.
“Although there is greater awareness, people are developing more risk factors, too. Previously, when I worked here, the stroke levels were very low but now you hear people having strokes quite often.”
Dr Sharma added, “Stroke is a sudden seizure of a function related to the nervous system. ‘Stroke’ is not a scientific word, but it is understood in daily practice that something has struck you badly, a function has been lost due to certain acute condition.
“Symptoms are loss of speech and paralysis of the right side, so you know something is wrong in that area of brain.”
The youngest patients that Dr Sharma saw were in their teens. “We have seen cases even among those in their early teens or late teens. These could be due to genetic issues or vascular problems, meaning that the blood supply to a part of the brain has stopped, and the brain has lost control on your body parts.”
According to the latest WHO data published in May 2014, deaths due to strokes reached 950 or 10.94 percent of the total deaths in Oman.
According to Dr. Srijithesh P. Rajendran, a neurologist at Badr Al Samaa hospital, when compared to the western world, more young people in the Middle Eastern and South Asian population suffer strokes.
“In Western countries, usually stroke cases are common in the age group of 50s and 60s. However,in the South Asian or Middle Eastern population, people are having strokes even when they are in their 30s or 40s. Risk factors include hypertension, diabetes and stress.”
According to Dr. Rajendran, if risk factors are controlled, it can reduce the risk of stroke by 90 per cent, but there are undetected or uncorrected risk factors which give rise to the condition. He advises patients to act FAST in case of a stroke.
“FAST is an acronym used to help detect and enhance responsiveness to stroke victim needs. FAST stands for ‘Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time factor’. If you feel any of these things, you must rush to a hospital within four to four and a half hours of developing or noticing the stroke condition,” he added.
Dr. Sivakumar, neurologist at Aster al Raffah hospital, said, “Oman is the second or third country in the Middle East where diabetes is being detected at a very young age.”
“This, coupled with the type of food, smoking, and no physical exercise, elevates their cholesterol levels, and contributes to strokes in younger people.”
Dr Sreenivas advised that people should get screened for diabetes and hypertension after leaving school. “It should be a compulsory thing. Health awareness is also very important. The youngest case I have seen was of a 24 year old Omani male and the contributing factor was hypertension.”
In the UAE, which is across the border, it was reported that annually 7,000 to 8,000 patients suffer a stroke, which means every hour, a person is hit by a stroke.
Hypertension was the culprit
One of the youngest patients suffering a stroke in the country was a 24-year -old national. Hypertension was the prime cause behind his problem, and undetected blood pressure was the culprit. The stroke had resulted in brain haemorrhage. Fortunately, he survived.