HEART disease amongst men has significantly increased in the last few years and the the novel coronavirus pandemic has influenced some of this increase.
Heart disease also known as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in men. It is a constellation of illnesses that include: coronary artery disease, heart attack and angina, heart failure, irregular heartbeat/rhythms.
In men, these diseases may present with symptoms such as chest pain, chest pressure, chest heaviness, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, feeling unwell, nausea or vomiting.
The above symptoms may be warning signs for an impending heart attack and evaluation should not be delayed. In Jamaica many times especially amongst our fathers, brothers and sons — when they experience these symptoms — they present very late to the cardiologist or to the hospital. This hesitation can lead to severe heart attacks, damages to the heart muscle, heart muscle weakness, heart failure and in many cases death.
It is important to note that if you experience any of these symptoms you should urgently visit your family doctor or the nearest health centre/emergency department depending on the severity. Your family doctor should refer you urgently to a cardiologist/heart doctor who will do some investigations to help determine the presence of heart disease. Some of these tests include an ECG and echo (which is an ultrasound of the heart) and at times blood test. If you think there is some hesitation and you have not been referred to a heart specialist, you can always visit a cardiologist or internal medicine specialist directly.
Further, there are different methods to help prevent or delay the onset of heart disease. Exercise, nutrition, a healthy active lifestyle, weight control, smoking sensation are what we call modifiable risk factors. These are things that we are able to control and change to help prevent or delay heart disease.
Non-modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, include hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and genetic factors. We are able to control these factors by ensuring early detection by getting a general check-up at your family doctor or clinic to test for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and weight especially around the abdomen. It is important in the Jamaican population that these are screened for as one out of every four men in Jamaica have hypertension — many of whom go undiagnosed, untreated, or have uncontrolled hypertension, which puts them at risk for heart disease. Your target pressure should be less than 130/80. Diabetes and chronic kidney disease are also significantly prevalent in our population. Men over the age of 35 years, men with a family history of diabetes, and/or men who are overweight should ensure they are checked and screened yearly for diabetes. Diabetes is one of the strongest risk factors for coronary artery disease and heart attacks.
What can you do generally to prevent heart disease?
Exercising at least 30 minutes per day ideally at moderate intensity is recommended. But if you can only walk you should walk, if you can jog, then jog and if you can cycle, you should cycle. Likewise, if you have access to a swimming pool you should swim, jog or walk in the pool. You don’t need to do two hours of weights per day. All you need is a minimum of 30 minutes per day and you can split this up 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the afternoon. You can do these while you’re watching your favourite show, talking on the phone or at any convenient time.
As a sports and exercise medicine specialist, I tend not to recommend trendy diets. Nutritionists are available in Jamaica that can help tailor your nutrition to what best suits you and your budget. Diets are generally short-term trends with good short-term outcomes and poor long-term results that are difficult to sustain. Nutrition more speaks to moderation and watching your size portions. The box food that we eat every day for lunch and dinner is way too much food for a body and we should decrease these portions. Generally, I recommend separating a coffin box food in half or three parts and eating each portion for each meal. Substitutes in your carbohydrates such as it rice and bread for vegetables is also a good method for weight loss and nutrition. Substituting desserts, sweets for fruits is also beneficial. Substituting your juices, sodas, alcohol, sweet drinks for water is really one of the most significant things that one can do to decrease their calorie intake per day without sacrificing their food calories. A gradual decrease in quantity is the aim so that your body is able to adjust to these new and healthy moderations.
Moreover, In Jamaica or men tend to have less health-seeking behaviours than women. This means there are less likely to visit a doctor. They’re more likely to stay at home with symptoms and less likely to take medication. This is something that we will have to culturally change to ensure increased health in our men. As one of the backbones of society, it is important that men live long and healthy lives to help mentor our youth, improve general family wellness and quality of life.
Dr Tahira Redwood is a cardiologist who specialised in public health, sports and exercise medicine. She is based at National Chest Hospital.