Panel on Health Issues Disproportionately Affecting South Asians

L to R: Namrata Nanavaty Vasquez, PhD; Archana R. Sadhu, MD; Trisha Roy, MD, PhD, FACS; Khurram Nasir, MD, MPH; S. Nicholas Desai, DPM, MBA, FACFAS


SUGAR LAND: Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation recently hosted a roundtable discussion titled, “Health Issues Facing the South Asian American Community,” on April 18. Attended by nearly 70 members of the Houston South Asian community, the Houston Methodist event sparked a dialogue that could help change these health challenges for current and future generations.

Diseases that disproportionately affect South Asians are preventable, according to the Houston Methodist doctors who spoke last week on a panel about cardiovascular, diabetes and mental health challenges in the community. The event featured an expert panel moderated by Dr. S. Nicholas Desai and comprising cardiologist Dr. Khurram Nasir, vascular surgeon Dr. Trisha Roy, endocrinologist Dr. Archana R. Sadhu and clinical psychologist Namrata Nanavaty Vasquez, PhD. These leading experts in their respective fields outlined key misconceptions and discoveries about disease pathophysiology — the causes symptoms and most effective treatments — that are distinct to people of South
Asian origin.

People of South Asian descent — from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — are inordinately affected by these health conditions and often earlier in life. South Asians face two to four times the risk of heart attacks and have a 40% higher chance of mortality from heart attacks than other ethnic groups. In addition, they are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes, which also puts them at risk for peripheral arterial disease (typically in the legs). Moreover, these chronic physical illnesses are often associated with psychiatric distress. In fact, one in five South Asians experiences mental illness during their lifetime. The correlation between the three conditions can make treatment very challenging.

Houston Methodist physician-researchers are discovering how these diseases manifest themselves in people of varying ethnic backgrounds and tailoring care accordingly. For example, the traditional markers of heart disease, such as high cholesterol, may not be as effective in people of South Asian descent as CT scans, which can reveal a high prevalence of coronary arterial calcium.

But the reality is that there are many unanswered questions. According to the panel, the lack of data specific to South Asians, not to mention the diversity within that broad category, results in the underrepresentation of this community in medical research. In addition, research of this kind is underfunded.

The keys to battling these health conditions that so pervasively affect this community, said the speakers, are targeted treatment and research, and community awareness and participation. The physicians encouraged members of the South Asian community to encourage family members of all ages to get early and routine screening before problems set in.

For more information about future discussions like this, reach out to