Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest in Men
Heart attack and cardiac arrest can kill you or impact your quality of life. Here's what men need to know about preventing heart attacks and cardiac arrest.
Why should I care about heart attacks and cardiac arrest?
You might assume that a heart attack or cardiac arrest is something you only need to worry about when you're older. But sad to say, heart problems are all too common in younger men. After accidents (such as car crashes), heart disease is the most common killer of men between the ages of 35 and 44. In men 45 to 54 years old, it's No. 1.
In fact, you're never too young to start thinking about this stuff. The American Heart Association now recommends that people start heart disease prevention at the age of 20.
In the long run, the odds are about one in three that you will die of cardiovascular disease. So why not try to put it off as long as possible -- or prevent it altogether?
What are heart attacks and cardiac arrest?
You've heard the terms a million times. But do you know the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?
The cause of a heart attack (or myocardial infarction) is pretty easy to understand. It's essentially a plumbing problem. The heart is a pump that circulates the blood throughout your body. But like all pumps, it needs an energy supply to work -- in this case, a flow of blood with oxygen and nutrients.
Sometimes the arteries that feed the heart -- called the coronary arteries -- get clogged with a combination of fats, clotted blood, and other nasty stuff. If a blood clot suddenly blocks a clogged artery, the heart stops getting the fuel it needs, the cells start starving and dying, and the pump can stop working.
Cardiac arrest is different. While a heart attack is a plumbing problem, cardiac arrest is electrical. Your heart is triggered to beat with regular electrical impulses. But if these electrical impulses become erratic -- causing an irregular heartbeat called an arrhythmia -- the pump may not work. When you see heroic TV doctors shouting "Clear!" and shocking a flat-lining patient with paddles, they're dealing with cardiac arrest. They're trying to electrically jolt the heart back into the correct rhythm. When it's fatal, cardiac arrest is known as "sudden cardiac death."
While they're different problems, a heart attack can sometimes lead to cardiac arrest.
How can I prevent a heart attack or cardiac arrest?
The goal of heart attack and cardiac arrest prevention is to avoid clots and the build-up of plaque in your arteries called atherosclerosis. If you can keep blood flowing smoothly through your body, your risks of having problems are much lower.
Plaque builds up gradually. The good news is that you don't have to worry that a single order of fettuccine Alfredo will suddenly plug up your arteries. The bad news is that decades later, your arteries may still show some ill effects of all that junk you ate in high school and college. Almost no one has significant coronary artery disease at the end of college, although the process starts in childhood. It accelerates markedly around age 50 to 60.