Heart Disease in Men

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Men weight training with dumbbells in gym.

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 347,879 men in 2017—that’s 1 in every 4 male deaths [1]. According to the American Heart Association, more than one in three adult men has heart disease, and men comprise more than 51 percent of the deaths that occur due to heart conditions [2].

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 [3]. 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 (e.g., pain, numbness, tingling)

Risks

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
  • Cholesterol/lipids
  • 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 percent of global deaths is attributed). High blood pressure is now classified as a blood pressure greater than 130/80.

Stop tobacco use. Tobacco use is second in factors leading to attributable deaths, with 9 percent attributed [4]. More than 20 of every 100 adult men (20.5%) smoke cigarettes compared to 15.3% of women, putting men at a higher risk [5].

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.

Be aware of cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is another controllable risk factor that can increase a person’s chance of heart disease. Men aged 20 or older should maintain a total cholesterol level of 125 to 200mg/dL. LDL should be less than 100mg/dL, HDL should be 40mg/dL or higher.

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.

To learn more about heart disease and treatment at Emory, visit the Emory Heart and Vascular Center website at emoryhealthcare.org/heart

About Dr. Sperling

Laurence S. Sperling, MD, FACC, FAHA, FACP, FASPC, is the founder and director of Preventive Cardiology at the Emory Clinic. He is currently Katz Professor in Preventive Cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine.  In addition, Dr. Sperling is a professor in the Rollins School of Public Health in Global Health.

Dr. Sperling Is a member of the writing group for the 2018 Cholesterol Guidelines, serves as co-chair for the ACC’s Cardiometabolic and Diabetes working group, and is co-chair of the WHF Roadmap for Cardiovascular Prevention in Diabetes. He was awarded The American College of Cardiology Harry B. Graf Career Development Award for Heart Disease Prevention and The American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology Scholarship for Physical Activity and Public Health in 2001.

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