the Best Ways to Prevent Heart Attacks

DR. COLUMBUS BATISTE II typically takes the stairs to and from his fourth floor office. Batiste, an interventional cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Riverside, California, deliberately parks his car as far as he can from his office building, to maximize the number of daily steps he takes. Whenever he’s on the phone, Batiste walks while he talks, rather than sitting or standing. These habits, he says, can help him maintain a healthy weight and cut down his odds of suffering a heart attack. Batiste, 46, knows that heart attack risks for men increase after age 40. So, mindful that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the U.S., he does all he can to cut down his odds of suffering a heart attack.

It’s important to be aware of the different heart attack symptoms for men by age group, says Dr. Patricia Guerra-Garcia, senior medical director for Independence Blue Cross based in Philadelphia. Some symptoms overlap.

According to Guerra-Garcia, these are the typical signs of a heart attack for men over age 50:

Chest discomfort.
Pain that radiates to the left arm, shoulder or back.
Shortness of breath.
Dizziness or feelings of being light-headed.
A cold sweat.
Throat or jaw pain.
Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or stomach pain.
Rapid or irregular heartbeats.

Here are symptoms of heart attacks for men under age 40:

Chest discomfort.
High blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat.
Cold sweating and tremulousness.

Men’s Heart Attack Risk Factors
Men should be vigilant when it comes to knowing their risk factors for a heart attack, says Dr. Sapna Legha, a staff cardiologist with the Cleveland Clinic. “If you have any of the risk factors – say you’re a smoker or have excessive weight and you’re experiencing some (heart attack) symptoms – you should go to the nearest emergency department,” she says. There are some risk factors you can’t do anything about, Legha says. For example, the risk of heart disease is higher among African-Americans, native Hawaiians, Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans of Indian descent.

Don’t be shy about seeking an evaluation from a primary care physician or a cardiologist if you suspect you’re experiencing heart attack symptoms, adds Dr. Allen Taylor, chairman of cardiology with MedStar Heart & Health Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, both of which are in the District of Columbia. Recognizing potential heart attack symptoms and promptly going to a health care professional are key to protecting your heart health, he says. “We’d much rather have a false alarm than have somebody at home having a heart attack (without seeking medical attention),” Taylor says. “If you ever think you’re having a heart attack, please get seen immediately.”

Major Heart Attack Risk Factors for Men That Can’t Be Changed
Here are major heart attack risk factors for men that can’t be mitigated by exercise or diet:

Increasing age.
A family history of heart disease.
Your race and ethnicity.
Being male.

Modifiable Heart Attack Risk Factors for Men
There are some risk factors, like a family history of heart disease, that you can’t do anything about. But other risk factors can be modified by such things as your diet and exercise regimen, Guerra-Garcia says. Being aware of these modifiable risk factors is the first step toward taking action to mitigating them, she says.

Modifiable risk factors for heart attacks in men include:

Being overweight or obese.
Eating a diet that’s high in fat and/or sugar.
Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
Having high blood pressure.
Having “bad” cholesterol.

How to Lower Modifiable Heart Attack Risk Factors for Men
Lifestyle changes can help reduce modifiable risk factors for men, says Dr. Matthew J. Budoff, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles. He’s also program director of Cardiac CT, Division of Cardiology, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Maintaining a heart-healthy eating regimen, like the Mediterranean diet, and keeping to a regular exercise routine can help mitigate almost all of the modifiable risk factors for heart attack for men, Budoff says. For example, research suggests that consuming a Mediterranean diet lowers the risks of heart attacks and cardiac death, he says. “It’s one of those diets that’s highly advocated for long-term prevention (of heart disease),” Budoff says. Regular exercise can also cut down men’s odds of having a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise, three to four times weekly, to lower the odds of not only a heart attack but also of a stroke.

Strategies for preventing a heart attack aren’t a mystery, says Dr. R. Todd Hurst, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Health at Banner – University Medicine Heart Institute in Phoenix. “Prevention is very effective for decreasing the risk of heart attacks,” Hurst says. Following these seven strategies can lower the risk by about 80 percent, he says:

Maintain a normal body weight.
Exercise regularly.
Eat a healthy diet.
Don’t smoke.
Maintain normal blood pressure levels.
Keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
Keep your “bad” cholesterol levels down.

Silent Heart Attacks
You may think of a typical heart attack as a dramatic and obvious event. However, 45 percent of heart attacks are considered “clinically silent” – that is, they occur with symptoms so mild that the person was not aware he or she was suffering a heart attack, according to a study published in 2016 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. More men than women had silent heart attacks, the research suggests. Researchers analyzed information from more than 9,400 people who participated in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.

Silent heart attacks are typically recognized not in the moment they happen but later, during a doctor’s visit that involves an electrocardiogram test, Guerra-Garcia says. “(These patients) don’t have the traditional symptoms of a heart attack and do not recognize that they are having a heart attack usually because symptoms are mild, unusual or absent,” she says. “People may have mild or non-specific symptoms. They may think they have the flu, heartburn (or) may think they have pulled a muscle on their back or chest. Some people complain of new or worsening fatigue.” If you have symptoms that have no clear explanation you should seek medical attention.

“New symptoms such as heartburn, shortness of breath, fatigue or back/chest discomfort should not be ignored and should be discussed with the doctor,” Guerra-Garcia advises. “If suddenly there’s an inability to perform usual activities, such as climbing steps at home or walking to the car in the parking lot, people should seek medical care.”

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