Statistics show that the most common cause of death in men is heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the top killer when analyzing data from men of all age groups and ethnicities in a large 2017 data set for the U.S. Nearly one-quarter of male deaths is due to heart disease. Since heart disease is a prevalent health condition among men, knowing the early signs of heart disease may help reduce their risk of developing life-threatening complications, such as a heart attack.
Defining heart disease
The term, “heart disease,” refers to a range of heart health issues. These include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart failure
- Other heart-related irregularities, infections, and birth abnormalities
In some cases, heart disease may develop with few if any detectable signs. However, many men with undiagnosed heart disease may notice symptoms indicating something is not right. The longer these symptoms go unnoticed, by the time they are noticed, their disease will have progressed to a more dangerous, life-threatening stage.
Risks factors for heart disease
Heart disease encompasses a wide range of risk factors for men which include the following:
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
- A diet high in saturated fat
- Alcohol abuse or excessive drinking
- High cholesterol
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
According to the CDC, almost half of all Americans – both men and women – have three or more risk factors for heart disease.
Early signs or symptoms of heart disease in men
The most obvious signs of heart disease are when a man has a heart attack or stroke. If a man is lucky enough to survive either of these conditions, symptoms usually precede the event they may have experienced but did not associate them with heart disease.
By the time a man has a heart attack or stroke, the disease has already significantly progressed. This is why recognizing early symptoms can help men from ever having a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
Early symptoms of heart disease are often vague. Men may view them as a mere annoyance that comes and goes. Generally, these early symptoms do not warrant a trip to the emergency room, but they are a red flag for seeing a primary care physician to discuss the possibility of heart disease.
For example, men who are having heart arrhythmias – irregular heartbeats – may have these early warning signs:
- Difficulty catching their breath after moderate physical exertion like walking up a flight of stairs
- A sense of discomfort or squeezing in the chest that lasts for 30 minutes to a few hours.
- Unexplained pain in the upper torso, neck, and jaw
- A heartbeat that is faster, slower, or more irregular than usual
- Dizziness or fainting
If blood vessels have narrowed due to plaque buildup, this will make it more difficult for the heart to circulate oxygenated blood throughout the body leading to early signs that may include:
- Angina (chest pain)
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in the extremities, such as pain, swelling, tingling, numbness, coldness, and weakness
- Extreme fatigue
- Irregular heartbeat
Diagnosing heart disease
Diagnosing heart disease at its earliest stages begins with a physical examination with a primary care physician. During this visit, men will be asked about the frequency, location, and what is felt when having symptoms. A man’s personal and family medical history will be reviewed and then depending on the assessment, their doctor may order further tests.
Here is a listing of tests that are often used to diagnosis heart disease:
- Blood tests for a lipid profile of heart disease – total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol, triglycerides.
- C-reactive protein (CRP) – combined with other blood tests help create an overall picture of heart health
- CBC or complete blood count
- Sodium and potassium levels
- Blood urea nitrogen or BUN and creatinine to check kidney functioning
- Fasting glucose to diagnosis diabetes or pre-diabetes
- ALT and AST to detect liver inflammation or damage
- TSH to check thyroid function
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) – records the electrical signal from the heart to check for different heart conditions
- Echocardiogram – an ultrasound of the heart to get a graphic outline of the heart’s movement
- Stress EKG or echocardiogram – used to see how the heart performs under physical stress
- Nuclear stress test – a small amount of radioactive material (tracer) and an imaging machine used to create pictures showing blood flow to the heart that can find areas with poor blood flow or damage within the heart.
- Holter monitor – a small, portable machine worn for 24 to 48 hours recording to detect arrhythmias
- Cardiac Catheterization and Coronary Angiography – Used to detect heart disease by opening blocked arteries with balloon angioplasty and stent placement
- Electrophysiology study – a recording of the electrical activity of the heart to determine the cause of rhythm disturbances and how to treat it.
For decades, heart disease has plagued men and their health. By knowing and understanding the importance of recognizing early symptoms of this disease, men can avoid serious or life-threatening heart disease events.
Today, technology for diagnosing and treating this disease is excellent. When men ‘catch’ their heart disease at an early stage, their outlook for living a long, healthy life, will be significantly improved.
Men, who are aware and vigilant in recognizing early heart disease symptoms and then seeing their doctor, will have a much greater chance of beating it back successfully long-term.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncolo gy and prostate cancer 911.