A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Man up: Stop ignoring heart disease warning signs

Doctor with mustache graphic

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles focused on health issues men need to talk about with their primary care physicians.

Hit pause, guys, before you bite into that bacon cheeseburger or drive past the gym and think about this:

Heart disease is the top killer of men.

But it doesn’t have to be.

While many reasons contribute to this statistic – lack of exercise, poor diet, obesity – men often discount risk factors and take the “it won’t happen to me,” approach.

Many guys flat out don’t like coming to the doctor and feel no need to,” said Dr. Brandon Parkhurst, a Marshfield Clinic family medicine physician. “It’s a stereotype and it’s true. Heck, for many years I used to be fairly reckless with my body. Many guys would rather go sit in a tree stand, eat whatever they want and put away some beers.”

Instead of brushing them off, address problems now and it’s likely you’ll be able to enjoy the finer things in life for years to come.

Don’t stay silent about silent killers

In a sense, your body is deaf to certain heart disease risk factors, which is why they’re called silent killers.

Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are primary culprits. You may feel fine but each adds to the chance you’re going to develop heart disease.

“Regularly see your doctor because diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol can all be controlled. Tests are needed to see if you have any of these problems,” Parkhurst said. “Combining exercise, diet and sometimes medicine can keep these in check.”

It’s important for men to know wellness exams and associated lab work are covered by all insurances and medical assistance. So men can’t use cost as an excuse to avoid check-ups.

Symptoms: Serious as a heart attack

Men, don’t ignore chest pain.

Chest pain and/or chest pressure during activity can signal heart disease or a heart attack, Parkhurst said.

For instance, if you walk up stairs and feel chest pressure, you likely are a candidate for a stress test, Parkhurst said. These tests measure heart fitness during strenuous exercise.

“We often include imaging your heart immediately after exercising to determine if the heart muscle responds properly or has good blood flow,” Parkhurst said.

This graphic helps explain differences in heart attack symptoms of men AND women.

Family history: A red flag for heart disease

Some guys can exercise, eat well and maintain a healthy body weight but risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, aren’t at ideal levels. You can thank genetics for this problem.

“A red flag is family history,” Parkhurst said. “There’s no other way to say it.”

Know what male family members have experienced. Heart disease is not just an “old person’s disease,” because you can have it, too.

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