This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 13, 2014.
Not many 20-year-olds are thinking about getting screened for heart disease, but Bay Area researchers say that’s exactly what they should be doing if they’re among the Bay Area’s growing population of South Asians.
That segment of the region’s population – people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka – have a heart disease risk that’s four times greater than that of the general population. That’s an important statistic for the Bay Area, which is among the top five U.S. metropolitan areas where South Asians live.
Heart attacks strike South Asian men and women at younger ages and are more deadly compared to people from other world regions. The hard question is why.
Doctors across the Bay Area are working on answers. El Camino Hospital in Mountain View opened the South Asian Heart Center in 2006. It was one of the nation’s first programs to address heart disease in this population. UCSF researchers authored one of the first long-term studies on the subject, following 150 Asian Indian heart patients for 2 1/2 years. And last month, Stanford Health Care opened the Stanford South Asian Translational Heart Initiative, a program that will treat existing heart patients, screen potential ones and conduct research.
Dr. Rajesh Dash, medical and scientific director for the Stanford initiative, explained that genetics seem to put South Asians in harm’s way, even when their cholesterol and blood glucose levels and body mass index measurements are just a little elevated.
“It’s hard to find a South Asian person who doesn’t have a family history of the disease,” Dash said. “We usually wouldn’t screen patients at age 20, but that’s where heart disease is starting for South Asians. It’s more aggressive, so we have to treat it that way.”
Here are the numbers:
South Asians’ risk of heart disease is four times greater than the general world population’s, according to statistics provided by the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital.
The percentage of heart attacks among Asian Indian men that occur before age 50; 25 percent occur before age 40.
The percentage of all heart disease-related deaths among South Asians that occur before the victim reaches 65. That’s double the rate for the overall U.S. population under 65.
The approximate number of South Asians living in the nine Bay Area counties, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. California has more South Asian residents than any other state, and the Bay Area ranks fifth in U.S. metropolitan areas where South Asians live.