Heart disease is one of the leading health risks facing men today. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, killing 307,225 men in 2009—that’s 1 in every 4 male deaths . According to the American Heart Association, more than one in three adult men has heart disease, and men comprise more than 48 percent of the deaths that occur due to heart conditions .
When we think of heart disease in men, we tend to think of coronary artery disease—the narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart—but heart disease is actually an umbrella term that includes a number of conditions affecting the structures or function of the heart. These conditions can include:
• Abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias
• Heart valve disease
• Heart failure
• Congenital heart disease
• Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
• Aorta disease
Signs & Symptoms
You’d think that with such a serious disease you’d have significant warning signs, but you may be developing heart disease without knowing it. In fact, half of the men who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms . Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.
The first sign of heart disease is often a heart attack or other serious event, but there are a few key signs to be aware of that can help recognize problems before they progress. In the early stages, symptoms include but are not limited to:
• Difficulty catching your breath after moderate physical exertion
• Erectile dysfunction – studies found that even minor erection difficulties could be indicators for heart disease. Erection difficulties are mainly caused by blockages in the small arteries that supply the penis. This is a good indicator of what is happening in other larger arteries in the body, including those that supply the heart.
• A sense of discomfort and/or pain in your chest
• Unexplained pain in your upper torso, neck, and jaw
• A change in your extremities (ie: pain, numbness, tingling)
Apart from the above symptoms, there are certain risk factors that can make you more prone to heart disease. The good news is that many of the major contributing factors can be controlled, including:
• Hypertension (high blood pressure)
• Tobacco use
• Raised blood glucose (diabetes)
• Physical inactivity
• Unhealthy diet
• Overweight and obesity
There are also other risk factors that are not modifiable such as age, gender and family history.
What You Can Do
Lots of things affect whether you get heart disease, and you control many of them. Some immediate steps you can take are the following:
Keep an eye on your blood pressure. In terms of global attributable deaths, the leading CVD risk factor is raised blood pressure (to which 13 per cent of global deaths is attributed). High blood pressure is now classified as a blood pressure greater than 140/90 in people under 60, and greater than 150/90 in people over 60.
Stop tobacco use. Tobacco use is second in factors leading to attributable deaths, with 9 percent attributed . More than 20 of every 100 adult men (20.5%) smoke cigarettes compared to 15.3% of women, putting men at a higher risk .
Work on your weight. Many Americans are overweight. Bringing your weight to a healthy level is a plus for your heart. This can be accomplished by being physically active and enjoying healthy eating.
Maintain your social and emotional health. Cut out as much stress as possible. Find ways to ease the stress you can’t avoid. Exercise, meditation and talking to people you trust are three ideas to start with.
Limit your alcohol use. Anything more than moderate drinking is considered unhealthy. What’s moderate drinking? Up to 1 glass a day for women, and up to 2 glasses a day for men.
Lastly, consult your physician. Your doctor can help you develop healthy habits, prescribe appropriate medications, and figure out if your family’s medical history puts you at risk. Even if you have heart disease, you can live a healthier, more active life by learning about your disease and treatments and by becoming an active participant in your care.
About the Author
Laurence S. Sperling, M.D., FACC, FAHA, FACP is the Founder and Director of The Heart Disease Prevention Center at Emory. He is currently Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at the Emory University School of Medicine and Professor of Global Health in the Hubert Department of Global Health in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. Dr. Sperling also serves as the current President of The American Society for Preventive Cardiology.
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