Heart disease is one of the leading health risks facing men today. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 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.
Men have high levels of risk factors for heart disease. In 2010, only a quarter of men met federal guidelines for physical activity, and a large majority were overweight or obese. More than 20 percent of men smoke, which can cause a narrowing of blood vessels, a precursor to certain types of heart disease.
Heart disease is an umbrella term that includes heart failure, coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, angina, and host of heart-related infections, irregularities, and birth defects. Although it may seem that something so serious should have warning signs, you may be developing heart disease without knowing it as you go about your daily life.
Early Signs of Heart Disease
The first sign of heart disease is often a heart attack or other serious event, but there are a few cardinal signs to be aware of that can help recognize problems before they come to a head. In the early stages, symptoms may come and go and may seem like mere annoyances. For example, you may have:
- difficulty catching your breath after moderate physical exertion, like walking up a flight of stairs
- a sense of discomfort or squeezing in your chest that last for 30 minutes to a few hours
- unexplained pain in your upper torso, neck, and jaw
Heart disease that involves your blood vessels is often signaled by:
- chest pain (angina)
- shortness of breath
- changes in your extremities, such as pain, tingling, numbness, coldness, and weakness
These can be signs that your blood vessels have narrowed. This narrowing, which can be caused by plaque build-up, makes it more difficult for your heart to pump and circulate oxygenated blood efficiently through your body.
While not technically early symptoms, a cluster of risk factors also signal impending heart disease. For example, if you’re a diabetic and are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your risk for heart disease significantly increases.
Common Signs of Heart Attack and Stroke
The most common sign of heart attack in men is chest discomfort that includes squeezing, pressure, or pain. It used to be thought that only chest pain was a sign of heart attack, but it’s possible to have discomfort that doesn’t register as painful. This discomfort may also be present in your arms, back, neck, abdomen or jaw. During a heart attack, you may feel short of breath, break into a sweat, or feel nauseous and lightheaded.
Symptoms of a stroke include numbness or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, which often occurs only on one side of the body. Other symptoms of stroke include:
- confusion, difficulty speaking, or trouble comprehending what is said
- imbalance or loss of coordination
- changes in vision
- intense headache
Many of these changes will occur suddenly and without warning. If you experience these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.
What You Can Do
Knowing the signs of a heart attack or stroke is among the most important thing you can do to safeguard your cardiac health. Your ability to recover from one of these events depends on how quickly you receive treatment for them. You can save your life, or someone else’s, by seeking timely medical attention.
It can be difficult to determine if you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. If in doubt, seek immediate medical attention. Schedule regular check-ups—even if you think you’re in excellent health—and notify your doctor of any changes in your health. Establishing a rapport with your practitioner with help them determine a baseline for your health and will enable you to feel comfortable expressing any concerns that arise in the future.