This June, we’re sharing insights from clinicians across our Dignity Health Medical Groups on topics that are crucial to men’s health. Next, we’ll hear from Sumesh Jain, MD, a cardiologist with Dignity Health Medical Group — Merced.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death of men in the United States. The good news is that heart disease can be prevented. Below, Dr. Jain offers insight to better understand heart disease and how to reduce one’s risk.
What’s the most common heart-health condition that men tend to delay care for?
Dr. Jain: Coronary heart disease is the most common heart condition in men. Men often ignore, or don’t recognize the symptoms, preventing them from being evaluated and treated in a timely manner.
Coronary heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become hardened and narrowed due to cholesterol buildup, called atherosclerosis. Significant narrowing of the arteries can eventually lead to a heart attack.
Many health conditions can impact heart health, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood), immune diseases and diabetes. High levels of stress, smoking and alcohol use, poor nutrition, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and family health history are also factors that can contribute to heart disease.
What are the symptoms of heart disease?
Dr. Jain: Heart disease can display a variety of symptoms including:
- Chest pain or upper body discomfort
- Pain in the neck or upper back — especially if the pain gets worse with exertion
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and inability to perform usual activities
If you are experiencing pain or discomfort in your chest, especially in the center or left side of the chest for more than a few minutes, call 9-1-1 immediately. This is a common sign of a heart attack and can feel like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, pain or fullness in the chest, upper back or neck.
What are some lifestyle changes men can make to have the most impact on overall heart health?
Dr. Jain: The key to sustaining heart-healthy lifestyle changes is to start with one change at a time rather than making several all at once. This will help ease into a heart-healthy lifestyle, and keep you on track in the long-run.
Implementing a daily exercise routine consisting of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity is a great place to start. Aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, cycling and dancing are great examples. In addition to helping cardiovascular health, daily exercise helps to keep one’s weight in check, improving one’s overall health.
Quitting smoking at any age helps reduce one’s risk of coronary heart disease. When you breathe in cigarette smoke, you are contaminating the oxygen that will be distributed throughout your body. The contaminated oxygen can permanently damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to heart disease. After just 8 hours of quitting smoking your oxygen levels return to normal and nicotine levels decrease by over 90%. If you do smoke, the earlier you can quit the better, here’s why, according to the FDA.
Eating heart-healthy meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables is a key component of heart disease prevention. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, bok choy, parsley, chard and spinach are especially good to incorporate into your diet because they form nitric oxide, which helps dilate the arteries.
Regular doctor visits can help your health care team better understand and treat any underlying health issues that can contribute to heart disease. This is especially true for those with a family history of heart disease or other risk factors like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
Reach out to your primary care provider or cardiologist if you have any concerns about your cardiovascular health. Consult our “Find a Doctor” tool to find a Dignity Health doctor in your area.