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Heart Symptoms Men Should Not Ignore


Heart disease is the number one killer of men in the United States. In 2020, heart disease, which develops in men about 10 years before it develops in women, caused approximately one in every four deaths among men. Nearly 400,000 men died from it that year, according to the CDC. And here’s one more scary statistic: Half of men who die of coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common form of heart disease, do not have any symptoms. Their first sign they have it is a heart attack.

Let’s take a look at the heart attack warning signs that men experience and should not ignore.

First, what is a heart attack?

Your heart needs a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood in order to remain healthy and function properly. If the flow of blood into your heart gets cut off, your heart muscle will suffer potentially permanent damage as its cells begin to die. This is a heart attack, or myocardial infarction. It can be fatal if not treated right away.

Heart attacks are quite common. The CDC estimates that more than 800,000 people have a heart attack each year. The average age a man will have his first heart attack is 65, though as many as 10% of heart attacks occur before 45. We’ll get into why heart attacks occur in a moment, but first we’re going to review the symptoms. They can be different for men and women.

Don’t ignore these signs that you are having a heart attack

Chest pain or discomfort. This is the most common symptom for men. According to a 2019 study, more than nine out of 10 men who have a heart attack report chest pain. It’s often described as extreme chest pressure, or feeling as if an elephant is sitting on your chest. It may feel like squeezing, tightness, or aching. This pain usually lasts for several minutes. It may go away and come back, but it does not ease with rest.

Radiating pain. When having a heart attack, pain or discomfort can spread to other parts of your upper body, including your shoulders, back, arms, neck, jaw, and teeth. You also may feel pain in your stomach, above your belly button.

Shortness of breath. This occurs because your heart has stopped getting all the oxygen it requires. Your heart attack also may cause fluid to back up into your lungs, and this, too, can cause shortness of breath, especially when lying down.

Cold sweat. You may break out into a cold and clammy sweat for no apparent reason. This can occur if your blood pressure drops due to a heart attack.

Other symptoms may include nausea, fatigue, light-headedness or dizziness, and a fast or irregular heartbeat.

Keep in mind that not every man will experience a heart attack the same way. You may not have all of the symptoms listed above. In fact, you may have no symptoms at all or vague symptoms, such as heartburn or feeling as if you pulled a muscle in your chest. This is called a silent heart attack. A silent heart attack can damage your heart and increase your risk of a future heart attack.

If you suspect you are having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Early treatment can prevent or reduce the extent of permanent damage to your heart. Such damage can lead to heart failure and arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats that can be life threatening. Heart attacks also can trigger cardiac arrest, which causes the heart to stop beating. Untreated, cardiac arrest quickly leads to death.

What causes heart attacks?

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common cause of heart attacks. CAD occurs when plaque builds up on the walls of your coronary arteries, which are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This plaque is made up of cholesterol and other substances. Over time, the plaque buildup causes your arteries to narrow and stiffen. This makes it harder for your heart to get the blood and oxygen it needs to function normally.

If your arteries become so narrow that blood can no longer reach your heart, you will have a heart attack. The plaque buildup also can rupture, or break open. This triggers the formation of dangerous blood clots. These clots can block the flow of blood into your heart, leading to a heart attack.

What are the symptoms of CAD?

CAD has several common symptoms in men, and they are similar to those you may experience during a heart attack. However, keep in mind that CAD’s first symptom may be a heart attack.

The most likely symptom you will experience is chest pain, or angina. This occurs because the heart is not getting enough blood to meet its needs. The pain may come and go, often becoming worse when you are physically active and improving when you are at rest. That’s because your heart requires more oxygen-rich blood when it has to work harder, such as when you exercise.

What does this chest pain feel like? That varies. You may feel pressure in your chest or a burning pain. A feeling of fullness or squeezing in your chest also may occur. Don’t ignore chest pain or discomfort. See your doctor, who can establish the cause and tell you what treatment you need.

You may also experience pain in other parts of your body, such as your jaw, arms, neck, and back.

Other possible symptoms of CAD include:

  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

A unique heart disease symptom for men

Did you know that erectile dysfunction (ED) can be an early sign of heart disease? It’s normal for a guy to occasionally have trouble achieving or maintaining an erection, but if it happens all the time, the problem likely affects more than your ability to have sex.

To become erect, blood must be able to flow into your penis. But the arteries that deliver that blood to your penis can become narrow and stiff due to plaque buildup as a result of the same process - called atherosclerosis - that causes such buildup in the arteries in your heart. When that happens, your penis can’t get enough blood for a healthy erection.

Like heart disease, ED becomes more common with age. Researchers estimate that more than three out of four men 75 and older have ED. Experts consider ED to be an early warning sign of heart disease. If you have erectile dysfunction, your doctor should evaluate your heart health.

Conclusion

If the flow of blood into your heart gets cut off, your heart muscle will suffer potentially permanent damage as its cells begin to die. This is a heart attack, or myocardial infarction. It can be fatal if not treated right away. Learn the symptoms of a heart attack in men, and if you believe you are having one, call 911 right away.

Key takeaways

A heart attack can be fatal if not treated right away.

Chest pain, radiating pain, shortness of breath and breaking into a cold sweat are symptoms of a heart attack.

Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of heart attacks.

Erectile dysfunction can be an early sign of heart disease.

If you believe you are having a heart attack, call 911 right away.

References:

American Heart Association (2015). Heart Attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest Differences.

CDC. (2021). Coronary Artery Disease.

CDC. (2022). Men and Heart Disease.

Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Is Your Chest Pain Due to a Heart Attack — or Not?

Harvard Medical School. (2019). Premature Heart Disease.

Mulhall, J.P., Luo, X., Zou, K.H., et.al. (2016). Relationship between age and erectile dysfunction diagnosis or treatment using real-world observational data in the United States. International Journal of Clinical Practice.

Johns Hopkins Medicine (n.d.) Special Heart Risks for Men

Ferry, A.V., Anand, A., Strachan, F.E., et al. (2019). Presenting Symptoms in Men and Women Diagnosed With Myocardial Infarction Using Sex‐Specific Criteria. Journal of the American Heart Association.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022). Heart Attack Symptoms.

Mayo Clinic. (2022). Coronary Artery Disease.

Mayo Clinic. (2022). Heart Attack.

Mayo Clinic. (2022). What Is a Silent Heart Attack?

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