Heart Disease: It’s Still a Guy Thing Too

“The fact is that men remain much more likely than women to have heart attacks or to die from heart disease,” says Felix Rogers, D.O., a cardiologist with Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

Dr. Rogers explains it like this: Let’s consider a person who might be like someone you know – fairly normal cholesterol, blood pressure well-controlled on medication, no diabetes, and no history of smoking. At age 50, a man would have a risk for a heart attack of 5 percent over the next ten years, and a woman’s risk would be exactly half that. (The experts consider anything above 7.5 percent to be high risk.) By age 60, this man’s 10-year risk has climbed to 12 percent, and by age 70, it’s a frightening 24.5 percent. The woman’s risk remains exactly half that of a man. It’s not until age 79 that men and women share the same risk for a heart attack.

Since we are comparing men and women of the same age and in similar health, this increase in risk is largely attributed to being a man. The risk is made worse if we add in known risk factors for heart disease. For example, if the 50-year-old man described above were a cigarette smoker, the 10-year risk of heart disease more than doubles, from 5 percent to 11 percent. At age 60, cigarette smoking causes the risk to jump from 12 percent to 19 percent. (The risk of heart disease does rise much faster for women who smoke, which is one other reason to promote awareness of heart disease in women.)

Knowledge = Power: What You Can Do

So once a man is armed with the knowledge that he has a two-fold increase in cardiac risk compared to a woman, what’s a guy to do? Dr. Rogers suggests that the first thing is to get your blood cholesterol levels checked. Your doctor will then use that to calculate your personal risk of heart attack in 10 years. If the risk is above 7.5 percent, chances are it will be recommended that you start taking a statin drug to lower your cholesterol.

The second thing to do is to make changes for a healthy lifestyle. You can’t change your age, but you can make some really important changes that will greatly reduce your risk of a heart attack.

  • If you use tobacco in any form, please try to quit (or quit again if it’s not the first time you’ve tried.) Enroll in a smoking cessation program or talk to your doctor.
  • Regular exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week makes a huge difference, and also reduces your risk of cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer disease.
  • Weight loss helps, but be realistic. Losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight (you do the math!) can make a big difference in your cardiac risk, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. You don’t have to get to ideal body weight to see benefits in reducing heart risk.

Above all, don’t try to go it alone! See your doctor to get direct advice and encouragement. Get those around you involved in your quest for a healthy lifestyle. Sharing good times, good (for you) food and engaging in physical activity with friends and family is therapy in its own right – and is just what the doctor ordered.