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Men’s heart disease: Raising awareness, making changes.

Men’s Health Month is a great time to get to know the symptoms of heart disease.  

“Heart disease” is actually a very broad term that describes a number of issues that can affect the heart. Some of the more common are coronary artery disease (blocked heart arteries), problems with any of the four valves in the heart, and problems with the electrical system of the heart (arrhythmias). Each of these issues present many overlapping symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath, especially with activity
  • pain or discomfort in the center of the chest that may or may not radiate to the neck, arm and/or back
  • swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs
  • fatigue
  • indigestion
  • heartburn
  • palpitations
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • passing out

There is a range of heart health screening options, diagnosis, and treatment plans.  

Some of the least invasive screening options for detecting heart disease are a thorough history and physical, an EKG, and echocardiogram or ultrasound of the heart. These procedures can help determine whether you have heart disease, as well as which type. Often, more than one single type of heart disease is present. The tests help serve as a guide as to what additional testing may be necessary, such as a stress test, a trans esophageal echocardiogram (TEE), cardiac catheterization, or cardiac MRI. These follow-up tests help identify the kind of heart disease and determine treatment options.

“A mild form of coronary artery disease may be treated by adding and/or adjusting medications,” says David Garber, PA-C, Chief Physician Assistant, St. Clair Medical Group – Cardiac Surgery. “A more severe form may require stents or open-heart bypass surgery. Recent advances allow some of heart valve problems to be treated in a less invasive way.” Symptoms of heart valve problems could also initially be treated with the addition or adjustment of medications, depending on the severity of the problem.

“While more severe heart valve problems usually require an intervention such as open-heart surgery to repair or replace the valve, less invasive options have become available. At St. Clair Health, we offer treatments such as TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement) surgery to repair a narrowed or stenotic aortic valve, and MitraClip surgery for a leaky mitral valve.”

It’s never too late to start being heart healthy.  

Here are a few of the simple but important steps men can take to start living a healthier lifestyle.

  • Becoming more physically active
  • Losing weight
  • Adopting a healthier diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Controlling diabetes

As an added benefit, those lifestyle changes can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Men who’ve experienced heart issues can reduce the odds of having the next one.

According to David, “Those lifestyle changes are very important if you’ve already experienced heart issues. You should establish an exercise program with a health care provider. I highly recommend eating a well-balanced, less-processed diet that’s low in salt and cholesterol. If you do these things and you still have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you should work with your health care provider on a plan that may include medications.”

The importance of changing lifestyle habits to promote heart health.

“I always stress to our patients how important lifestyle changes work hand-in-hand with what we did for them surgically. Many people find it extremely difficult to make lifestyle modifications. Taking one large step can be challenging and even unsustainable for many people. I like to provide a bit of a reality check to my patients and remind them of the possible outcomes that could occur if they remain on the same path. I tell them that even the smallest steps are better than none. I applaud patients for every success, whether they are big or small. Acknowledging their efforts, even when they may fall short, is key to helping them live a healthier life and meet their goals. Giving patients options can put them in control of their choices. It’s a great way to help them establish and sustain a healthier lifestyle.”