Barbadians from as young as 29 are suffering heart attacks, and the country is experiencing congestive heart diseases of “epidemic” proportions among the younger generation, according to medical experts.
Doctors say gone are the days when heart attacks were seen as “a tourist disease” and that the days are long gone when only the elderly suffered cardiac problems.
Data on the disease is being compiled and will be presented at next June’s Caribbean Cardiac Society meeting in Barbados. However, cardiologists say, from their experience, there’s reason to worry.
“We’re seeing 29-year-old males with heart attacks. We’re seeing 40-year-old pre-menopausal females,” veteran physician and cardiologist Dr Raymond Massay revealed last night at a Heart and Stroke Foundation lecture at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre in observance of World Heart Day.
“So we are sort of ten years behind the advanced countries in which they are seeing a fall off.
We now are in the epidemic ischaemic [low blood flow to the heart] heart disease where the developed world was, say ten years ago.”
Dr Massay recalled that up to the early 1980s heart disease was regarded as something only visitors to Barbados suffered but that lifestyle changes saw its introduction here by the mid-1980s, when the elderly were the ones most at risk.
However, he said this has changed in recent years as more young people suffer cardiac problems.
“Heart attacks in Barbados were once regarded as a tourist disease. It comes in November, it goes out in May. That was in 1981. Then I came back to Barbados to work in 1984, and before the end of 1984, I realized that the demographics had changed, and we’re seeing Barbadians with heart attacks.
“And I think what we’re seeing is that the doctor who, years ago, could look at a Barbadian who is less than 70, and say ‘OK, that chest pain is not heart disease’, the younger doctors don’t have that luxury now,” he said.
The principal presenter at last evening’s lecture, Dr Alan Smith said he is currently combing through Barbados’ operation theatre records to confirm the observation that heart illnesses are no longer a problem of the elderly here. But he said there was sufficient evidence to form an educated opinion on the matter.
“I’m not finished looking at the data, but it is also my impression that we are seeing people, especially for coronary bypass procedures [who are] younger and younger. It is my impression that we are operating on more 40-year-olds with cardiac diseases than we were before,” Dr Smith said.
The heart surgeon and lecturer in cardiothoracic surgery at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus Faculty of Medical Sciences said the data compilation would be completed and ready for presentation at next June’s gathering of Caribbean medical professionals involved in cardiovascular care.
The physicians blame the rising heart problems among the younger age group on their living habits, including an increasing number of women who smoke and a lack of physical exercise among young people.
“It is lifestyle. I think it is the increased incidence of hypertension, diabetes. More women are smoking . . . You go to a party and look at the smokers, and five women are out there [smoking] and their boyfriends inside,” lamented Dr Massay.
“All of the mix that goes to create the patient with heart disease, we’re seeing those factors in Barbados.”
He also called on the authorities to allocated adequate resources to arrest the problem before it gets even worse.
“If the authorities do not direct health spending to deal with the epidemic that we’re seeing, we’re going to be in trouble,” he warned.
Nearly three in ten Barbadians (28 per cent) suffer from cardiovascular diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2014 Country Profile report. However, in an address at the opening of The Hassell and Symmonds Cardiac Care Centre at the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados building at Ladymeade Gardens, Jemmotts Lane, St. Michael in September 2013, Minister of Health John Boyce revealed that cardiovascular diseases accounted for 30 to 40 per cent of all deaths here between 2003 and 2013, making it the leading cause of death during the decade.
According to the World Heart Federation, heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading causes of death, claiming 17.3 million lives each year.
World Heart Day is an annual event which takes place on 29 September every year and this year’s theme was Creating Heart-Healthy Environments.