Symptoms of heart disease in men
Heart HealthMen's Health

Symptoms of heart disease in men

Written by

Anna Roell
2 May, 2023

Medically checked article All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Cardiovascular (heart) disease refers to conditions that affect the structure or function of the heart or blood vessels. Heart diseases can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (develop during an individual’s lifetime) (Cleveland Clinic, 2022). Heart diseases are the most common cause of death in the EU, both in women and men. Of all heart diseases, coronary artery disease (CAD) and strokes were the most common causes of death, accounting for more than half of the deaths from heart disease in the EU (OECD, 2022). Heart disease is an important health risk for men- men have a higher risk of CAD and heart attacks compared to women, and usually develop heart disease at a younger age (Bots et al., 2017). While heart disease can be caused by a variety of factors, certain risks can be reduced through lifestyle changes and regular health checks. In this blog, we discuss the symptoms of the most common cardiovascular diseases in men, as well as risk factors, diagnosis, and prevention.

Risk factors for heart disease in men

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are the leading risk factors for heart disease in both women and men. Furthermore, behaviors such as excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, lack of exercise, and a diet high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease (Weidner, 2001). Persistent stress and a family history of heart disease are also among the risk factors of heart disease (Steptoe & Kivimäki, 2013). 

Men are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease in all age groups (Millett, 2018). The following are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease in men:

  • Diabetes: Diabetes occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin or use it effectively, resulting in too much sugar in the bloodstream. High blood sugar can damage blood vessels over time, increasing risk of heart disease. As men are more likely to have type 2 diabetes than women (RKI, 2021), and are also more likely to have undiagnosed diabetes (CDC, 2022), diabetes is an important heart disease risk factor for men.
  • Smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times compared to a nonsmoker. Men generally tend to use tobacco products at higher rates than women, and there are also studies that suggest that smoking activates the reward systems of men more than women (NIDA, 2022). 
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Alcohol consumption is associated with increased blood pressure, heart failure, and diseases of the heart muscle (Johns Hopkins, 2022). As adult men drink more than women and are more prone to binge drinking (CDC, 2022), understanding alcohol’s impact on heart health is important in heart disease prevention.

Heart disease symptoms in men 

The most common cardiovascular diseases are heart attack, coronary artery disease, and stroke. Heart disease can cause a variety of symptoms, including nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, or shortness of breath. An irregular heartbeat, palpitations (a pounding or fluttering feeling in the heart) and swelling of the legs and feet may also indicate heart problems. It is important to note that symptoms of heart disease may be different in men and women. For example, men are more likely to experience chest pain than women, while women are more likely to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and nausea (CDC, 2022).  

Symptoms of heart attack in men

A heart attack is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to the heart is reduced or blocked. It is important to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack early so that treatment can be initiated promptly. Heart attacks are particularly common in men, and the most common symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain or radiating pain to the left arm, shoulder, or elbow (WHO, 2021). The following symptoms may also occur during a heart attack in men:

  • Chest pain or discomfort in the chest: uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Feeling of weakness, fainting, dizziness, possibly accompanied by a cold sweat.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders. 
  • Shortness of breath. 

Source: CDC, 2022

Seek emergency medical care immediately if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, even if you are not sure you are having a heart attack.  

Symptoms of coronary artery disease in men

CAD is a disease in which blood vessels (arteries) supplying the heart are damaged by plaque buildup. Plaque is made of cholesterol deposits and can narrow or block arteries over time. The most common symptoms of CAD in men include chest tightness in the form of a stabbing or squeezing sensation in the chest, anxiety, and sweating. If these symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately (Mayo Clinic, 2022). CAD can progress for a long time without any symptoms and may not be discovered until a complete blockage of the artery occurs (heart attack). Knowing your risk of CAD even if you have no symptoms is important in preventing a potential heart emergency in the future (CDC, 2022). Symptoms of CAD can include:

  • Angina: a painful, burning, squeezing, or fullness sensation in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Source: Cleveland Clinic, 2022

Symptoms of stroke in men

Along with heart attacks, strokes are the leading cause of cardiovascular death in men and women. The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked or reduced by a blood clot or plaque. The symptoms of stroke are generally the same between men and women, but are important to recognize as immediate medical treatment is needed to avoid brain damage. Symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Trouble speaking or understanding what others are saying
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of coordination
  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or legs, usually on one side of the body
  • Problems with vision, such as loss of vision in one or both eyes

Source: Mayo Clinic, 2022

Diagnosing heart disease in men

If you experience symptoms that could indicate heart disease, be sure to follow up with your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential in order to avoid cardiovascular emergencies like stroke or heart attack. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms, your personal and family medical history, and your lifestyle, such as how often you exercise or whether you smoke. In addition, various blood tests for cholesterol and lipids, for example, may be performed to make a diagnosis, as well as the following tests: 

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test measures the electrical impulses of your heart and can be used to diagnose arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) or a heart attack.
  • Stress test: This test is done while you exercise on a treadmill wearing heart or blood pressure monitors. It provides information about how well the heart works when it’s pumping hard.
  • Echocardiogram: This test provides a picture of your heart using an ultrasound. An echocardiogram can detect structural abnormalities of the heart and examine how well the heart is performing.
  • Coronary angiogram: This test may be done after a heart attack or angina. A catheter (small tube) is inserted into an artery in the groin, arm, or wrist. The catheter is moved through the artery until it reaches the heart. Next, a special dye is injected into the blood vessels, allowing an x-ray to be taken. This shows where and to what extent the coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. 
  • CT scan or MRI of the heart: a CT scan or MRI produces images of the heart and chest. These images can show possible blocked blood vessels or other problems with the heart structure.

Source: Mayo Clinic, 2022

Preventing heart disease in men

Heart disease is a serious health issue with a high mortality rate (WHO, 2023). By managing risk factors and making healthy lifestyle choices, you can lower your risk for heart disease and heart attack. 

Preventing heart disease begins with knowing your risk. If you are concerned about your risk of heart disease make an appointment with your GP, even if you are not experiencing symptoms. If you would like to check your heart health without visiting a doctor, Homed-IQ’s Heart Disease Blood Test checks cholesterol, lipids, and blood sugar from home using a finger prick blood sample. Other tips to prevent heart disease include:

  1. Know your health status: High cholesterol, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and elevated inflammation levels (hs-CRP) are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. As many of these conditions do not cause symptoms, getting tested allows you to know your risk and get treated before heart disease occurs. Interested in checking yourself regularly? Homed-IQ’s Blood Sugar Test, Inflammation Test, and Cholesterol and Lipids Test are laboratory blood tests that check markers of heart health when and where you want.
  2. Manage medical conditions: if you have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, it is important to get checked often and take steps to ensure these conditions are well controlled. Keeping your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar in a healthy range helps reduce the risk of heart disease in the future. Speak to your doctor on how best to manage and monitor any medical conditions.  
  3. Make heart-healthy lifestyle changes: This includes eating a balanced, healthy diet, drinking less alcohol, and quitting smoking.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly: although weight loss can be daunting, even slight weight loss has been found to be beneficial for heart health, even if some of the weight is regained later (Hartmann-Boyce et al., 2023). In terms of exercise, you can still make a difference in heart health without visiting the gym. Regular moderate exercise such as walking have also been found to improve heart health (Murtagh et al., 2010). 

Treatment of heart disease

If you are diagnosed with heart disease your doctor will advise you on treatments are recommended. Depending on the severity and type of heart disease, the following treatments may be used: 

  • Lifestyle modification: men with increased risk or heart disease are advised to modify their lifestyle to reduce the risk of further damage to their heart, such as increasing physical activity, eating a low-fat diet, or stopping smoking.
  • Medication: depending on the type of heart disease, medications may be prescribed. Common medications used to treat heart disease include antihypertensive drugs, cholesterol-lowering agents, and blood thinners.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may need to be performed to treat heart disease, such as insertion of a stent or bypass surgery. 
  • Heart health programs: cardiac rehabilitation programs are medically supervised programs designed to improve cardiovascular health. They usually include exercise training, education about a heart-healthy lifestyle, and emotional support.

Source: Cleveland Clinic, 2022


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About the author

Anna Roell

Anna is a trained nurse and health economist specializing in epidemiology, combining her medical and scientific interests. Her goal is to improve others' understanding of medical information and to communicate it in an understandable way. Anna is originally from Germany and now lives in Amsterdam. What she appreciates most about Amsterdam is the open-minded, active attitude of the people, the markets, and the beautiful nature in the areas surrounding Amsterdam.