Men’s Health Awareness Month: Know the signs of a heart attack or stroke

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 4:32 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - June is Men’s Health Awareness Month--WBKO News will be providing a series of Men’s Health-related stories to bring awareness of health and wellness concerns related to men.

With the stressful year we all went through, it’s common knowledge that stress is bad for your health most specifically heart health.

WBKO spoke with Dr. Muhammad Akbar, a cardiologist with Western Kentucky Heart and Lung, about heart health and why you might want to prevent delaying your next appointment/check-up.

“It’s very important that we use an opportunity like this to spread the information out to the public because unless we know about what can potentially go wrong, people won’t really pay attention to it. So if you look at the statistics for heart disease across the U.S., heart disease is the number one killer for men across the U.S. And if we break up the U.S. according to different rates of heart attacks and heart events, actually, Kentucky is in the top percentile for where men have a very high risk of heart attacks and death,” said Dr. Akbar. “So definitely it is something that needs to be addressed. As far as you know, screening is concerned, I think one should be aware of certain background risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease. So they do include obviously, some modifiable and some non-modifiable risk factors. The only real more non-modifiable risk factor is family history. So we need to know if there was somebody in our families who had heart disease or a heart attack before the age of 55, if they were abandoned, or before the age of 65. And that, again, underscores that heart disease is by and large, much more common in men.”

Dr. Akbar says there are many factors that play into heart health and it’s best to have an established relationship with a care provider who can chart and regularly keep track of various vitals.

“Other major risk factors are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. So, for people who have a risk of heart disease based on any of the risk factors, the first thing would be to go and get themselves evaluated in terms of making sure they don’t have high cholesterol. For people who are above age 20 actually, it’s recommended, they should get a cholesterol check at least every five years. And another thing that can be missed still, it bothers people because most of the time, it’s a silent condition as high blood pressure. So making sure that we maintain a check on the blood pressure is important. In terms of men, particularly, you know, there’s usually shyness towards seeking any routine medical attention, I think it’s very important to establish a relationship with a primary care provider,” said Akbar.

“Risk factors are lifestyle-related. So definitely obesity and overweight is a big risk factor. So we need to curtail our caloric intake. We also need to be mindful of exercise. So it’s generally recommended that people should have at least 150 minutes per week of the moderate-level activity or at least 75 minutes per week of more strenuous physical activity. So they should have a good level of activity and when it comes to diet, I think it’s very important to realize that it makes a huge role in our overall well-being, especially in terms of cardiovascular health. So generally, we should try to cut back on foods that are high in sugars, sodium, and fat. Now, not all fat is the same. So we usually worry more about trans fats or saturated fat. But there are some healthier fats that are found in nuts and avocados foods like that, that would not be so bad. But by and large, I think we, as a community, need to increase our intake of fruits and vegetables,” said Akbar.

A statistic from the CDC says that every 40 seconds that there’s a heart attack that’s occurring in the US, what are some signs and symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke that men should be looking out for?

The unfortunate part of that is that most of the time, people don’t get a warning. So about half of the people who have had a heart attack, that’s the first time they realize they have a heart problem. And a lot of times people don’t understand the symptoms I what I try to do for my patients is at some counseling that they should not really focus on pain as a symptom,” said Akbar. “Most patients who have heart disease tend to have pressure or tightness that can involve anywhere from their jaw, their neck, across their chest, and sometimes the upper part of the belly, too, which can last for several, you know, minutes. So that is something that should raise a concern about that. Sometimes it’s associated with symptoms of feeling sick, or a cold sweat, which should definitely raise an alarm bell, whenever somebody is concerned about having a heart attack and stroke. Another important thing is that you want to call 911, to get medical attention. This is not a situation where you want to take the liberty of coming in by yourself.”

Don’t Skip Preventative Care and Quit Smoking Immediately

Preventive care is the basis of how we can identify if we have any health problems which are putting us at risk of heart disease. Secondly, is thinking that you are too young to have a heart attack, I’ve had patients as young as 24 years old, who had massive heart attacks where they were at high risk of dying. So clearly, in our region of Kentucky Heart disease is very common. So if anybody has the dangerous symptoms, they should not forego and think about it, that it can’t be me.”

“Finally, you know, some people just accepted as their faith that they have a strong family history. Or if they’re smoking, they can do anything about it. And I usually counsel my patients that being proactive is going to be very important. Even though we may have a family history that puts us at risk of heart disease, adopting a better lifestyle makes a huge difference. And quitting smoking is always an option. And it’s actually never too late to quit smoking because studies have shown that as soon as you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease starts to go down pretty fast,” said Dr. Akbar.

To learn more about Western Kentucky Heart and Lung and about Dr. Akbar click here.

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