What is heart disease?
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. Heart disease is an umbrella term that includes:
- heart failure
- coronary artery disease
- other heart-related infections, irregularities, and birth defects
Although it may seem that something so serious should have warning signs, it’s possible to develop heart disease without knowing it as you go about your daily life. Know the early signs of heart disease — as well as risk factors — so you can get treatment early and prevent more serious health problems.
Many men are at high risk of developing heart disease. The AHA reported in 2013 that only a quarter of men met federal guidelines for physical activity in 2011. They also estimated that 72.9 percent of U.S. men age 20 and older are overweight or obese. And about 20 percent of men smoke, which can cause the blood vessels to narrow. Narrowed blood vessels are a precursor to certain types of heart disease.
Other risk factors include:
- a diet high in saturated fat
- alcohol abuse or excessive drinking
- high cholesterol
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
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The first sign of heart disease is often a heart attack or other serious event. But, there are a few important signs that can help you recognize problems before they come to a head.
In the early stages, symptoms that seem like mere annoyances may come and go. For example, you may have heart arrhythmias, which can cause:
- 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 lasts for 30 minutes to a few hours
- unexplained pain in your upper torso, neck, and jaw
- a heartbeat that is faster, slower, or more irregular than usual
- dizziness or fainting
Heart disease that involves your blood vessels is often signaled by:
- angina (chest pain)
- shortness of breath
- changes in your extremities, such as pain, swelling, tingling, numbness, coldness, and weakness
- extreme fatigue
- irregular heartbeat
These symptoms can be signs that your blood vessels have narrowed. This narrowing, which can be caused by plaque buildup, makes it more difficult for your heart to circulate oxygenated blood throughout your body.
In addition to the above symptoms, heart disease caused by an infection of the heart can include dry cough, fever, and skin rashes.
A cluster of risk factors may also signal impending heart disease. For example, your risk of heart disease significantly increases if you have diabetes and high blood pressure.
A heart attack occurs when heart disease has reached the point where blood stops flowing to the muscle of the heart. 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 have:
- shortness of breath
- profuse sweating for no apparent reason
Symptoms of a stroke include numbness or weakness that only happens on one side of your body. The numbness may occur in your face, arms, or legs. Other symptoms of stroke include:
- confusion, difficulty speaking, or trouble comprehending others
- imbalance or loss of coordination
- changes in vision
- intense headache
Many of these changes occur suddenly and without warning. Call 911 immediately if you experience these symptoms.
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It can be difficult to determine if you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention if you’re concerned about any symptoms you have.
It’s crucial to reduce your risk factors for heart disease whether you have symptoms or not. Schedule regular checkups even if you think you’re in excellent health. Establishing a baseline for your health will help you and your doctor address any concerns that arise in the future.