July's Wellness Topic: Men's Health Month
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Dr. Simeon Margolis
Men's Health Month

Young Men: Reduce Your Heart Attack Risk
by Simeon Margolis

Young men are far more likely than young women to suffer a heart attack.

So, what can you do? The most effective way to lessen the likelihood of a heart attack is to control or correct any of the major risk factors you may have.

The risk factors for a heart attack that you need to be aware of are:

  • cigarette smoking,
  • high blood pressure,
  • low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol that is too high or high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol that is too low,
  • diabetes, and
  • a family history of premature heart attacks in parents, siblings, or children (before the age of 50 in males and before the age of 60 in females).

Of course, there's nothing you can do to correct the fact that close members of your family had a heart attack at an early age, but it is a warning that you need to be more vigilant than other young men.

Part of the problem with these risk factors is that abnormal levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as the early years of high blood pressure, cause no symptoms. So, the only way to determine whether you have any of these risks is to get a check-up with your doctor no later than age 20 and every subsequent 5 years if they are all normal. (By the way, it's a good idea around age 20 to find an internist or family doctor who is attuned to the notion of prevention of heart disease and other disorders.)

A related, important issue is your weight. You probably don't need a doctor to tell whether you are overweight or obese. And while these are not formally included in the list of risk factors, being overweight or obese certainly is a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes — which does impact heart health.

So what can you do to help mitigate the risks? By adopting healthful lifestyles measures, you can improve abnormal levels or values of cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight. Regular exercise and a low-calorie diet can lower blood pressure and weight as well as raise the beneficial HDL cholesterol. What's more, high blood pressure responds to salt restriction while LDL cholesterol can be decreased by limiting the intake of saturated fats — found mainly in red meats, eggs, and dairy products.

If lifestyle measures don't improve these values, both high blood pressure and elevated LDL cholesterol can be lowered substantially by medications that are proven to reduce the probability of a heart attack or stroke.

Finally, you must stop smoking! It more than doubles the risk of a heart attack. Cessation of cigarette smoking is the most important, and most difficult, step that a young man can take to prevent a heart attack, lung cancer, and other disorders. It's so hard to do on your own that you should seek help from the prevention-minded doctor you have chosen.

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