Men and Heart Disease: What are the Risks?

Elderly man having his heart checked by a doctor

If you’re a man, you’re more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause. If that surprises you, you’re not alone. Most people don’t know the number one cause of death for men is heart disease, according to surveys. But the condition actually kills one in every four men.

Fortunately, heart disease doesn’t have to be fatal – it’s largely preventable. And whether you’re in your 30s or 60s, there are things you can do to lower your risk of getting heart disease or dying from it. 

What are the Traditional Risk Factors for Heart Disease 

Part of understanding your risk is knowing what raises it. Traditional risk factors that affect both men and women include:

  • High cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that can build up along your arteries, leading to blockages and reducing blood flow. If this buildup ruptures, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. For adult men, you want your total cholesterol to be between 125 and 200 mg/dL, your HDL (sometimes called good cholesterol) to be 40 mg/dL or higher and your LDL cholesterol (often called bad cholesterol) less than 100 mg/dL. If you’re between 45 and 65 you should have your cholesterol tested every one to two years depending on your overall heart disease risk. If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked in a while, talk to your primary care doctor.
  • High blood pressure. Hypertension is often called a “silent killer” because it has few obvious symptoms. Unfortunately, when your blood pressure is high it can affect your heart, brain, kidneys and other major organs. Blood pressure can be controlled by lifestyle measures and medications. Current guidelines recommend levels below 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Being overweight or obese. Carrying around extra weight increases your risk for heart disease in several ways. It promotes bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while suppressing good cholesterol levels. It can cause high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, both of which raise your risk for heart disease.
  • Your family history. Unfortunately, you cannot change who your family is – or the diseases they have. Your parents, sisters, brothers, children, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews are part of your medical family history and if any of them have heart disease, have a history of heart attack or stroke, have high blood pressure or any number of other heart-related issues, you need to share that with your primary care physician.  
  • Lifestyle factors. Being sedentary, eating a poor diet, smoking and drinking too much alcohol – these are controllable factors that increase your risk for heart disease. 
  • Having type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, having type 2 diabetes puts you at greater risk for a lot of problems – including heart disease. Heart disease is the number one complication of diabetes but controlling blood glucose levels can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Surprising Heart Disease Risks for Men

While these risk factors affect both genders, there are some that are  specific to men:

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED). While men of all ages occasionally fail to achieve an erection, recurring erectile dysfunction is not normal and could be a sign of heart disease. Atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and high cholesterol all affect the blood vessels that carry blood to the penis. These conditions account for 70 percent of ED caused by a physical problem. Diabetes can also cause nerve and arterial damage that can make achieving an erection difficult. 
  • Low testosterone. Studies have shown that low testosterone levels in men are associated with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. It may also be why men experience heart disease earlier than women, though not much is certain. Some studies have shown that men with lower testosterone levels had more cardiac events than men who were on testosterone replacement therapy. If you have low T, talk to your primary care doctor. 
  • Stress and anxiety. While mental health issues significantly raise the risk for heart disease in both genders, new research shows that stress and anxiety among men in middle age can impact their risk for heart disease in ways that can last for decades. Researchers don’t know yet why this seems to affect men more than women, but they speculate that increased anxiety may influence biological factors like blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormone release.

Signs of heart attack

If unmanaged, elevated stress and anxiety may ultimately lead to cardiac events like a heart attack. But how do you know if you’re having a heart attack? This is one area where there are major differences between men and women. Heart attack symptoms are often different. Women, for example, may experience more nausea or light-headedness or feel unusually tired.

Men may experience these heart attack symptoms:

  • Crushing chest pain (generally on the left side)
  • Squeezing, discomfort or fullness in the chest
  • Pain in the arm, jaw or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea

It’s important to pay attention if you’re experiencing these symptoms and seek immediate medical treatment. And it’s important to pay attention to your overall heart disease risk. About 50 percent of men who die from heart disease didn’t know they had heart disease because they either missed the symptoms or didn’t experience them.

When Should I see a Doctor?

Prioritizing your health is important and having a more personalized approach towards men's health starts with your primary care doctor.

From routine lipid panels that show your basic cholesterol levels to more robust testing for inflammation, LDL particle size and other less obvious risk factors, your MDVIP-affiliated doctor can help you better determine your heart disease risk and help you manage those risks. 

Studies show that MDVIP-affiliated physicians identify more patients at risk for heart disease, help patients better manage chronic conditions that influence cardiovascular risk and even help lower risk for heart attack and stroke among high-risk patients versus traditional primary care doctors.

Learn how an MDVIP-affiliated doctor can help lower your heart disease risk. 

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