Reduce the risk of heart disease in men, Afib

By George R. Dibu, MD, FACC, Ascension St. Vincent’s

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States. A common condition that can increase risk in men is atrial fibrillation, or AFib. It is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation-related deaths are on the rise and many patients remain untreated.

What’s more, men develop heart disease 10 years earlier, on average, than women. That’s why it’s important for men to be aware of the heart health risks they face at any age and the steps they can take to prevent them.

The link between atrial fibrillation and heart disease

Atrial fibrillation causes a rapid, chaotic heartbeat in which atrial electrical signals in the heart can increase to 350 to 600 beats per minute. AFib affects millions of Americans, but since many have no symptoms, the condition often goes undiagnosed. This can be dangerous, as atrial fibrillation doubles the risk of heart-related death and increases the risk of stroke fivefold.

Atrial fibrillation can prevent the upper chambers of the heart from contracting properly. When this happens, blood collects in an area called the left atrial appendage. The pooled blood can form a clot that travels to the arteries in your brain, interrupting blood flow and leading to a stroke. Moving down to the lower chambers of the heart, atrial fibrillation can cause an irregular and often rapid pulse. This often results in symptoms such as palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath, and even reduced heart function.

Special heart risks for men

Low testosterone levels in men have been linked to a higher risk of developing heart disease. Certain behaviors like drinking and smoking too much can also increase the risk of heart disease.

AFib in particular can often be associated with high stress levels and mental health issues, as the disorder is usually caused by strain on the upper left side of the heart. Men who suffer from sleep apnea, coronary heart disease, lung disease, or kidney disease may also be at a much higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

Prevention and treatments

A great way to reduce your risk of heart disease is to check your blood pressure regularly and discuss your cholesterol and triglyceride levels with your doctor. Men should also find ways to reduce stress levels to avoid the rise in blood pressure and stress hormone levels, which lead to restricted blood flow to the heart.

Thanks to modern advancements, many therapies are available today to treat atrial fibrillation. Medications may be used to control heart rhythm or to restore and maintain a normal rhythm. Advanced cardiac catheter ablation (atrial fibrillation ablation) is another effective treatment option.

Additionally, there are effective treatments to prevent clots and reduce the risk of stroke, such as anticoagulation with a blood thinner or a small mechanical device (known as a WATCHMAN) that can be placed in the appendix left auricle of the heart.

Take control of your heart health today

They say an ounce of prevention is better than cure. Regardless of your age, talk to your GP or cardiologist whenever you notice a change in your condition. Our teams of primary care physicians and cardiologists, including those at our new St. Johns County Hospital, can provide you with the care you need, when and where you need it. Take control of your heart health by scheduling an appointment today.

Dr. George R. Dibu is chief of cardiology at Ascension St. Vincent’s St. Johns County. For more information about Dr. Dibu, visit healthcare.ascension.org or call 904-691-9100.

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