Dear Healthy Men: What’s the top cause of death in men and what can guys do to reduce their risk?
A: Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—which includes heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, atrial fabulation (A-Fib) high blood pressure, and other conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels—is by far the biggest killer of men (and women) in this country, accounting for about one in every four deaths.
CVD is also a major cause of disability and decreases the quality of life for millions. Because CVD interferes with your heart’s ability to pump blood through your body, it can keep you from working, spending time with friends and family, playing with your children or grandchildren, climbing stairs, carrying groceries in from the car, and even having sex.
Evaluating Your Risk
Even if you don’t have cardiovascular disease now, you may have one or more habits or conditions that could increase the chance that you’ll develop it. Look at the list of statements below. If any of them are true about you, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider today. Just one “Yes” answer means you are at risk. Two “Yes” answers doesn’t just double your risk—it actually quadruples it (increases it by four times). Having three factors increases your risk by 10 times:
- I’m 45 or older. (Your risk of developing cardiovascular disease doubles each decade.
- An immediate family member (father, mother, brother, sister) was diagnosed with high blood pressure or some other kind of heart condition before age 55.
- I’m African American.
- I get little or no exercise.
- I’m overweight or obese.
- I eat a lot of salty foods and/or I add salt to what I’m eating.
- My cholesterol is high (see page 10 for more info).
- I smoke. (If you do, you are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than a nonsmoker.)
- I have high blood pressure.
- I use recreational drugs, such as cocaine.
- I’m under a lot of stress (at work and/or at home).
- I drink more than two alcoholic drinks every day.
- I drink a lot of coffee (not decaf) or other caffeinated beverages.
- I have diabetes. (More than 80 percent of people with diabetes die of some kind of CVD.)
- I’m taking prescription medications that affect blood pressure. This includes Ritalin (drugs for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), steroids, migraine medications, any over-the-counter drugs that contain the ingredient pseudoephedrine, and any medication that contains stimulants such as caffeine.
Minimizing Your Risks
Naturally, there’s nothing you can do to change your age, family history, or ethnic background. However, you can do plenty about the other risk factors—either on your own or in concert with your healthcare provider.
- Quit smoking. Smokers are much more likely than non-smokers to suffer heart attacks and strokes and far more likely to die as a result.
- Check your blood pressure. Diagnosing high blood pressure is easy—all you have to do is have it checked by your healthcare provider or on your own (blood pressure monitors are widely available).
- Watch your cholesterol. A provider will have to order the test, but you should keep an eye on your numbers: Total cholesterol should be under 200; HDL (the “good” kind) should be over 40, LDL (the “bad” kind) should be under 100; the triglycerides should be under 150.
- Eat right and get to a healthy weight. This means reducing sugars, red meats, and highly processed foods; and increasing fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
- Exercise. Try for 30 minutes every day, but only after checking with your provider to make sure you’re healthy enough.
- Chill. We all feel stressed sometimes, but too much stress for too long a time can cause serious—and potentially deadly—problems.
Finally, build a partnership with a healthcare provider. Getting baseline readings for blood pressure, cholesterol, PSA, and other markers could save your life. You’ll find an excellent list of which tests you should have and when at http://www.getitchecked.com. And you’ll find addition information on cardiovascular disease from Men’s Health Network at https://www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/Heartbeat.pdf.