A recent ICMR report highlighted the enormity of diabetes and hypertension cases in Karnataka. It's important to note the prevalence of these lifestyle diseases, especially in Karnataka, which hosts the IT hub of the country. Dr Ramesh, Associate Director, Genomic Medicine, Personal Genomics divisions, Bioinformatics Department, MedGenome, Bengaluru sheds light on the situation and the need to address the crisis.
"The recent data on the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in India is really alarming. More than 25% were diabetic or prediabetic, close to 80% of individuals have high cholesterol levels, around 40% had abdominal obesity, and around 35% had high blood pressure, says Dr Ramesh. “Are we becoming the NCDs capital of the world?” He asks.
The high prevalence of NCDs in the country can be attributed to lifestyle (diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress, etc.) and genetic factors. However, one should also consider the fact that with the awareness of maintaining a healthy lifestyle increasing, regular health check-up rates, in both urban and semi-rural regions, are also rising, Dr Ramesh says.
Previously, with limited awareness, people would go for health check-ups only when they are hit by the symptoms, and assumptions like one can get diabetes or high blood pressure or a cardiac arrest after 50 years of age. Nevertheless, fast-changing lifestyle factors such as diet, stress levels, and so on. have impacted the health of the youth to a great extent. When combined with the genetic risk of developing NCDs, the early onset of the disease is not a surprise.
Dr Ramesh says that until recently, genetic wellness tests were not considered in preventive disease management. With the advent of technological advancements, these scientifically well-validated tests are becoming more and more affordable and popular, especially in urban areas.
“Unlike a HbA1c level test for diabetes, which can be done every 3 months, a genetic test is a once-in-a-lifetime test. This screening test calculates the Polygenic Risk Score (PRS) from one's genetic makeup and identifies if the tested individual is at high, moderate or average genetic risk for getting a disease. These tests are now available in India for major NCDs such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, etc.”
He says that the PRS tests screen several millions of genome-wide markers which contribute to the genetic risk of developing the disease. For example, the diabetogen test for diabetes covers 6.9 million markers and to date this is the most comprehensive screening test that can accurately predict genetic predisposition.
“The ICMR study is an eye-opener for everyone to take wiser steps towards one's healthy well-being addressing the lifestyle and genetic factors," Dr Ramesh says.