June is Men’s Health Month. The national observance used to raise awareness about health care for men and focus on encouraging boys, men and their families to practice and implement healthy living decisions, such as exercising and eating healthfully.
The focus in this column is on cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of preventable death in men. Thanks to the Talking About Men’s Health blog (part of the Men’s Health Network) for the content provided here, which focuses on prevention as the paramount strategy to ward off heart disease in men.
Every 36 seconds in the United States, one adult dies from cardiovascular disease (CVD)…a life shortened because of a disease that can often be prevented. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for one in every four deaths of men across most racial and ethnic groups.
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Recognize symptoms of heart disease
Sometimes heart disease may be “silent.” But it’s important to recognize the signs or symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or arrhythmia. These symptoms may start suddenly and include:
• Heart attack: Chest pain or discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness and shortness of breath.
• Heart failure: Shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen or neck veins.
• Arrhythmia: Fluttering or racing feelings in the chest (palpitations).
• Stroke: FAST: Facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911.
Even without symptoms, men may still be at risk for heart disease. It’s important to understand your risk. Be proactive — ask your doctor to review and discuss your risk for heart disease or stroke. If you have any of the urgent symptoms of heart disease, don’t dismiss them. Act immediately.
Understand the risks for heart disease
Half of adult men in the United States are living with high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure increases the risk for both heart disease and stroke. Millions of adults with high blood pressure do not have it under control. High blood pressure often does not cause specific symptoms. That’s why getting your blood pressure checked regularly and working with your health care team to maintain a healthy blood pressure is so important.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle patterns can also put men at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
• High or abnormal cholesterol
• Overweight and obesity
• Unhealthy diet
• Physical inactivity
• Excessive alcohol use
• Family history of heart disease at an early age
Reduce your risk for heart disease
To reduce your chance of heart disease or stroke, it’s important to:
• Check your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease and increased risk of stroke. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. If you are living with high blood pressure, partner with your health care team to ensure your blood pressure is well controlled (less than 130/80 mm Hg).
• Ask your health care team about if you should be tested for diabetes. Having diabetes raises your risk of heart disease. Learn more about diabetes.
• Quit smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn ways to quit.
• Discuss checking your cholesterol levels with your health care team. Make healthy food choices. Focus on a heart-healthy diet. Being overweight or obese (having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher) raises your risk of heart disease. Limit alcohol intake to no more than two servings per day.
• Speak with your family to learn if there is a family history of early heart disease.
• Lower your stress level as best you can and try to find healthy ways to cope with stress.
Additional resource information
The Million Hearts initiative focuses on prevention by implementing effective strategies, preventing heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular events is possible … one heart at a time. Details are available at: https://millionhearts.hhs.gov/about-million-hearts/index.html.
Men’s Health Network (MHN) is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to reach men, boys, and their families where they live, work, play and pray with health awareness and disease prevention messages and tools, screening programs, educational materials, advocacy opportunities and patient navigation. https://www.menshealthnetwork.org/.
Check out the resource from the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) with a focus on Men’s Health Month at: https://www.sophe.org/focus-areas/mens-health/.
Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D., has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 35 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at email@example.com.