“I hope I don’t drop dead from a heart attack.”
If this thought crosses your mind when you exercise all out, experience a sudden scare, or even when you have sex, you’re not crazy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 70 and 89 percent of sudden cardiac arrests occur in men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in about half of those cases, they occur without any previous symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Sudden cardiac arrest does not seem to be an ‘equal choice employer,’ but we don’t fully understand all the complicated reasons why men experience it more than women do,” says Lance B. Becker, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. “The most common reason for sudden cardiac arrest is a bad rhythm of the heart wherein the normal beating function becomes rapidly chaotic and the heart no longer pumps blood effectively. It’s like an electrical storm of the heart.”
Once that bad rhythm happens, within ten seconds or so, you will not have blood pressure, and you’ll collapse and could die. It’s scary, but you don’t have to feel like a ticking time bomb. There’s plenty you can do to know your risks, keep your heart healthy, and live a long, full life. Here’s how to protect yourself from the heart risk that men fear most:
1. Heed the warning signs
If half of the men who die of sudden cardiac arrest have no symptoms, half do. Some men don’t recognize their symptoms as heart-related or serious enough to call their doctor. “Don’t be macho; be smart and get help if you have symptoms,” says Dr. Becker. If you experience the following symptoms, call your doctor or if they are severe, call 911:
• Dizziness and fainting
• Pain in the arm, shoulder, jaw, or chest
• Unusual sweating
• Shortness of breath
• Heart palpitations
• Nausea or vomiting (can often occur within an hour of a sudden cardiac arrest), according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute).
• Overall sense of “I don’t feel good.”
2. Get tested
Follow your doctor’s recommendations for how often you should have a full check-up. In terms of heart-specific screening tests, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends the following schedule for men:
• Blood pressure check….at least every two years are, beginning at age 18. High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher.
• Diabetes screen… if your blood pressure is higher than 135/80 or if you take blood pressure medication
• Cholesterol test… Beginning at age 35 or age 20, if you: Smoke, are obese, have diabetes or high blood pressure, have a personal history of heart disease or blocked arteries, or are at risk because of family history (a male relative had a heart attack before age 50 or a female relative before age 60.)
• AAA Screening. The tripe A stands for abdominal aortic aneurysm, a bulging in your abdominal aorta, the largest artery in your body. An AAA may burst, which can cause dangerous bleeding and death. If you are between ages 65 and 75 and have ever been a smoker, talk to your doctor about being tested for this problem.
3. Live a heart-healthy lifestyle
Sounds boring, but it’s true. In a recent analysis of 14 studies, doctors at Tufts University found that in people who didn’t exercise regularly, the risk of heart attack and sudden cardiac death was about three times higher during and in the hour after having sex or exercising intensely. However, people who did exercise regularly were habitually exposed to physical activity every additional time per week. The risk for heart attack decreased by approximately 45 percent and the risk for sudden cardiac death by 30 percent. The message? Being fit protects your heart, but check with your doctor to make sure that physical activity is safe for you and to get advice on the best kinds of exercise for you to do.
In addition to exercising, keep your heart strong by eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and if you drink alcohol, doing so moderately. “Few of us do 100 percent of the things that we should lead a long and healthy life,” says Dr. Becker. “Talk to your doctor regularly about what you can do to stay as mobile as possible, exercise, and be healthy not only physically but also emotionally. Emotional stress can decrease blood flow and raise heart attack risk. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your stress and stay healthy.”
4. Know your family history
Of course, you should know what diseases run in your family and how your relatives died—but just as important is knowing how they lived. If your grandfather died of sudden cardiac arrest at age 50, but he was obese and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, your risk for sudden cardiac arrest may be lower than if he was an ideal weight, didn’t drink or smoke, and exercised daily. Moreover, discuss these details with your doctor to get a realistic idea of your own risk for heart disease.
5. Learn CPR
Even though you can’t perform it on yourself, take a CPR class and bring along someone you live with to take it with you. “Everyone should know how to perform CPR in an emergency,” says Dr. Becker. “If you attempt CPR on a person who is in cardiac arrest, it doubles or triples the likelihood that that person will survive. Most people don’t do it textbook perfectly. The key is to do something. Push hard and push fast and that will save people’s lives. It’s all of our responsibilities to step in when someone is in need.”
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