Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. Every 36 seconds, another American dies from heart disease. Heart disease is the #1 killer of men in the United States. About 1 in every 4 American male deaths is from heart disease.
It is important for men to understand what heart disease is, the risk factors and symptoms, and how to prevent heart disease.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease refers to a group of more specific heart conditions, such as coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease (CAD), arrhythmia, heart failure, and heart attacks. Coronary heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart and body become hard and narrow because of plaque buildup.
This plaque is made up of substances like cholesterol and other fatty lipids in the body. This hardening and narrowing of the arteries are called atherosclerosis. When this plaque builds up, blood flow is restricted, leading to a decrease in the amount of oxygen that is supplied to the heart. Over time, this can lead to a heart attack.
High blood pressure and heart disease
Having high and uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease. Over time, high blood pressure taxes the blood vessels and heart by making them do more work less efficiently. The friction and force that come from high blood pressure will do damage to the delicate tissues lining the arteries. Plaque forms along with these tiny tears and lesions. As more plaque builds up, the narrower the arteries become, raising blood pressure even more. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Many people have no symptoms of high blood pressure until it is too late. It is important to regularly check your blood pressure to make sure it is within the healthy range.
Why men are more prone to heart disease
Men have an elevated risk of heart disease. In 2013-2016, 47% of American men had high blood pressure or hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
Other risk factors for heart disease include being overweight or obese, having a poor diet, excessive alcohol use, physical inactivity, and having diabetes.
Symptoms of heart disease
The symptoms of heart disease can often be “silent,” and go undiagnosed until someone experiences the signs of a heart attack or arrhythmia. Symptoms of these events may include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain in the upper back or neck
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme fatigue
- Palpitations or feelings of fluttering in the chest
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, neck, or abdomen
It’s important to note that not all people who have heart disease experience signs or symptoms. Half of the men who died suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms or warnings.
Prevalence of heart disease in males
Heart disease impacts all males, but it tends to affect men of color even more. About 8% of non-Hispanic white men, 7.2% of black men, 6% of Hispanic men, and 4.8% of Asian men have CHD. Deaths from heart disease impact black Americans more than any other group. Nearly half of black women and 44% of black men have some form of heart disease. The incidence of high blood pressure in black Americans is the highest in the world.
Even if you have no signs or symptoms of heart disease, you may still be at risk. This makes checking your risk factors, monitoring blood pressure, and working with your health team even more important.
How can you lower your risk for heart disease?
- Check your BP: regular monitoring of your blood pressure will help you stay informed and in control of your blood pressure. If you suffer from high blood pressure, it may be helpful for you to keep a log of your blood pressure readings and take them to review with your doctor.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is known to increase blood pressure and can greatly increase your risk of heart disease.
- Check cholesterol and triglyceride levels: Work with your doctor to regularly check your cholesterol and triglyceride labs to make sure you stay within a healthy range.
- Eat healthy food: Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has been tied to a lower risk of heart disease. Limit red meat, fried foods, high sodium foods, and sugary drinks and desserts.
- Stay active: Regular physical activity can help keep your blood pressure in check and keep your arteries relaxed and pliable. Find an exercise that you enjoy doing and aim to get about 30 minutes of exercise per day.
- Limit alcohol: Excess alcohol intake is tied to an increased risk of heart disease. Drink in moderation which means 1-2 drinks per day. An alcoholic drink is defined as a 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz liquor or spirits.
- Lower stress: Too much stress can tax the heart and blood pressure even more. Find healthy ways of relaxing like taking a walk, reading a book, listening to calming music, or spending a few moments in quiet meditation or prayer each day.
Men need to bear in mind their risk for heart disease and the associated risk factors. It’s advisable for men to keep their regular check-ups with their doctors, and complete the recommended labs. Checking your blood pressure regularly may also be beneficial, and those who struggle with high blood pressure or have a family history of hypertension may want to consider an at-home blood pressure monitor.
Men should also eat a healthy low-sodium diet that limits red meat and sugar, only drink alcohol in moderation, get regular physical activity, and quit smoking. Practicing regular stress relief and getting a good night’s sleep is also part of a heart-healthy plan.
Laura Krebs-Holm, MS RD LD, is a licensed and registered dietitian in Austin, TX. She enjoys writing evidence-based articles about functional foods and nutrition. She loves to help people feel their best through a healthy lifestyle.