In a country where around 40 million adults are living with hypertension or high blood pressure, people in their early 20s and 30s are having heart attacks and dying relatively at an early age, senior cardiologists warned on Saturday, claiming Pakistan had witnessed a 10 percent increase in heart-related deaths since 2016.
They urged people to quit smoking and all other kinds of tobacco usage, decrease salt intake, consume a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise daily at least for 40 minutes, avoid junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages and reduce weight by all means to avoid having heart attacks, stroke, renal failure and other non-communicable diseases.
“Hypertension is one of the leading causes of stroke and major contributing risk factor for heart diseases, including coronary artery disease, heart failure and also chronic kidney disease (CKD) in Pakistan. Due to the rapid increase and early onset of hypertension, cardiac disease in on the rise among young people in Pakistan,” Prof Dr Nawaz Lashari, head of cardiology at the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), told a news conference at the Karachi Press Club (KPC).
Officials of the Pakistan Hypertension League (PHL) and the Pakistan Cardiac Society, including Prof Muhammad Ishaq, Prof Javed Akbar Sial, Prof Abdur Rasheed Khan, Prof Dr Khalida Soomro and Prof Dr Riffat Sultana, were also present on the occasion.
Prof Lashari deplored that in 2016, roughly 19 percent of deaths in Pakistan were attributed to heart-related disorders, a figure that had now grown to 29 percent, saying hundreds of people in their 30s and 40s while some as young as in their early 20s were having heart attacks due to an unhealthy lifestyle and genetic predisposition.
“So, as in the world cardiovascular disease has become the leading cause of death in Pakistan, with heart attacks often occurring in people under the age of 30s, while some who are smoking at a very early age are having heart attacks in their early 20s,” Prof Lashari warned.
According to the most recent WHO data on heart attack ratio in Pakistan, 240,720 people died from the coronary heart disease in Pakistan in 2020, accounting for 16.49 percent of all fatalities, he said, adding that this data is of what we know, but the number is far more as data is missing from rural areas, and undocumented death.
Prof Muhammad Ishaq, former secretary general of the Pakistan Hypertension League (PHL) said Pakistan has become number one country in the world in the prevalence of diabetes, and it is expected that the number of cardiac patients will also rise in proportion as diabetes is said to be equivalent to coronary artery disease.
Similarly, hypertension is also alarmingly on the rise among urban and rural areas of the country, Prof Ishaq said, adding that it is believed that 40 million people are being living hypertension, many of whom don’t know that they have high blood pressure and often they end up in hospitals with stroke or cardiac arrest.
“Smoking, high intake of salt, physical inactivity, poor diet, obesity and stress are major factors for hypertension, which is the leading cause of heart attacks, stroke and renal failure among people in Pakistan,” Prof Ishaq added.
Prof Abdur Rasheed said that contrary to a popular assumption, women are just as susceptible to heart disease as men. They do, however, suffer sex-specific risks such as early menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy-related issues including preeclampsia.
“Women with diabetes are also more likely than men to die from cardiovascular illnesses. So, that the old belief and myth of that women are less likely to have cardiac diseases has vanished now as women are now as prone to develop cardiac problems as men,” he added.
Prof Khalida Soomro said that even though men and women are equally susceptible to heart disease, the heart attack ratio and death from heart attack in Pakistani females is often higher. Women’s risk of dying or getting very ill as a result of heart disease is often underestimated due to under-diagnosis and under-treatment, she added.
“It is very well documented that usually females have fewer heart attacks, but if they have it then risk of death is greater in them than in males.”
Prof Riffat Sultana said that due to a sedentary lifestyle and other risk factors such as heavy smoking, rapid urbanization and a remarkable increase in number, deaths from cardiovascular disease in the age group of 30 to 40 years are becoming more common in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, especially in the metropolitan city like Karachi, one in every four middle-aged adults has coronary artery disease, she said, adding that young people both men women, both are at high risk.