Protect Your Heart – It Could Keep You Above Ground

I recently lost a friend and colleague and, while the cause of death is yet to be determined, the speculation is that a massive heart attack removed him from this world and our lives and, as a result, the jazz world lost one of its most enthusiastic ambassadors.  Men’s health is nothing to dick around with hominids.  Black men in particular are notorious for ignoring warning signs that, with early detection, provide important indicators that all is not well but treatable.  Man Up fellas and take control of your health!

The Vitals

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • 5.1 million people in the US have heart failure
  • 1 in 9 deaths in 2009 included heart failure as a contributing factor
  • About half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years
Risk factors include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking tobacco (though smoking crack is OK?), eating foods high in fat, cholesterol and sodium, not getting enough physical activity and being obese.  This is hardly new information but it is well worth repeating since many of us ignore the data despite our knowing.

Warning Signs

Researches have done a lot of work in recent years studying the signs and symptoms patients experienced in the months and years leading up to a heart attack.  Melanie Haiken, Senior Editor at Caring.com, reported on these common warning signs:
  • Erectile Dysfunction – ED is one of the best early warning signs of progressive heart disease.  Researchers at the Mayo clinic followed men ages 40-49  with ED and found that they were twice as likely to develop heart disease than those with no ED.  Why?  Narrowing and hardening of the arteries restricts blood flow to the penis.  So if you can’t get it up or keep it up, get to the doc and discuss your heart.  Don’t just seek treatment for the ED.
  • Snoring, Sleep Apnea and other breathing problems during sleep is another warning sign.  If you snore loud enough to make the dog bark, you could be showing signs of heart issues.  Those with sleep apnea were found to be 3 times more likely to have a heart attack within 5 years.  Why?  Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders that restrict breathing lowers the blood oxygen that feeds the heart.  If you suspect having a sleep disorder, ask your doc to set up a sleep study.  I participated in one about 5 years ago and it turned out to be one of the motivating factors that lead to my weight loss efforts.  Having to sleep with an oxygen mask on every night just wasn’t sexy at all.
  • Sore, swollen or bleeding gums.  That’s new information to me.  Experts believe that poor circulation due to heart disease could be an underlying cause of periodontal disease.
  • Puffy or swollen legs and feet.  If your feet swell enough to make your shoes tight or your ankles, wrists, or fingers are puffy, you might have a problem with fluid retention.  Why it matters?  Fluid retention occurs when the heart doesn’t pump strongly enough and blood doesn’t carry waste products away from tissues.  This is otherwise known as edema.  Talk to your doc about it.
  •  Irregular heart beat.  An early sign that something about your cardiovascular system is out of whack is irregular heart beat.  It may feel like your heart is beating too fast, pounding too hard or skipping a beat.  The most common cause of this is CAD (coronary artery disease) and is the leading cause of death for both men and women because it can lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Constricting or aching in the chest or shoulder.  Angina is the most common symptom of CAD.  It is not a sharp pain but more like a heavy weight.  When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, it deprives the heart muscle of blood, making it feel squeezed.
  • Shortness of breath can be an early sign that something is wrong with a major bodily system.  It will manifest itself during exercise, exertion and stress.  It may feel like you cant catch your breath.  Again, when your heart isn’t pumping strongly enough, it prevents oxygen from circulating properly.  95% of women who had a heart attacks reported unusual symptoms in the weeks leading up to the attack.  40% of those reported shortness of breath.

Knowing Matters

Education and early detection is key to staying in tune with your body.  Listen to it.  More often than not, it is trying to deliver feedback and that communication process just might save your life.

Another man was taken from this world before his time.  His was a father, a husband and an advocate.  He was 57 years old.  He was cool.  He was positive.  He was a voice for jazz.  He’s gone.  RIP Bobby Jackson.  You will be missed brother.

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