NORFOLK (NNS) -- The number one threat to men's health in the United States is cardiovascular disease (CVD), or heart disease.
An ounce of prevention is a defining factor in someone's lifespan and the quality of their life. But many men, despite the symptoms and consequences, are often reluctant to go to the doctor. Many of the illnesses that kill men are either preventable or treatable with early detection and intervention.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 321,000 men died from heart disease in 2013, or one in every four male deaths. Making just a few lifestyle changes can significantly lower the risk of heart disease.
Common risk factors of heart disease are smoking, drugs, alcohol, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity and being overweight, an unhealthy diet and stress.
"There are modifiable factors you can change and unmodifiable factors you can't change," said Lt. Ruth Cortes, the physician assistant aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). "Modifiable factors are things you can change like your smoking or dietary habits. Unmodifiable factors are things like age, your gender, your race and family history."
To lower their risk of getting a cardiovascular disease (CVD), Sailors can maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, not use tobacco products, limit alcohol consumption and have yearly physical examinations to identify any changes in their health. Those yearly examinations are part of the Navy's mandated annual physical health assessment (PHA).
"Common risk factors include tobacco use which includes cigarettes, dip, vaping and cigars, high blood pressure or high cholesterol," said Lt. Stephanie Horigan, George Washington's Ship's Nurse and a nationally certified critical care nurse. "Over half of the patients in hospitals for CVD generally have high blood pressure or cholesterol or they use tobacco or a combination of the three."
While both the civilian and military sectors have their share of risk factors, there are many factors the military has that the civilian sector does not.
"We are exposed to an environment of higher stress," said Cortes. "We have easier accessibility to fast food and poor food either on base or off base because they are always close by, peer pressure to start drinking and smoking which can affect cardiovascular risk, and the environmental factors that can't be changed such as deployments and workload."
Only half of all patients who suffer from heart attacks show symptoms prior to the attack. Symptoms of sudden cardiac events, or heart attacks, include feeling dizzy, racing heartbeat and jaw or arm pain.
"There is no definitive way to know if you have a CVD unless you see a medical professional but you can know if you have a higher risk," said Horigan. "If you're overweight, you're a smoker and your mother and father have heart disease, there is a good chance your risk of heart disease is much higher."
The Navy offers a multitude of ways to help Sailors lower risk and improve their health, like free medical care, free tobacco cessation and free workout programs. The Navy also has programs such as ShipShape, which offers courses on stress management and basic nutrition and weight loss. George Washington also offers basic lifesaving courses such as CPR.
"As the ship's nurse, I highly recommend everyone get CPR trained," said Horigan. "When someone has a heart attack, effective CPR and early defibrillation is the key to their survival. We give CPR lessons for free every week on the ship. The faster someone receives treatment, the less severe and the better chances of survival that person has. Every minute counts in these situations."
According to the 2014 Defense Manpower Data Center's Active Duty Military Personnel Master File, 83.5 percent of all service members are male. In 1999, men in the U.S. generally did not make use of health services early in the course of a condition compared to women and have higher mortality rates than women for the 15 leading causes of death, according to a research article by BioMed Central.
"Men rarely ever go see a doctor because men are supposed to be tough," said Cortes. "There are many studies on it. They're humiliated or called out if they want to go see a doctor even if it's a legitimate issue. They put it off and put it off until they pass out on the field and someone has to bring them in for dehydration. I think it's harder for men in the military because of the way they think they're going to get treated."
According to a 2013 Statistical Fact Sheet from the American Heart Association, more than one in three adult men have some form of CVD. Although it is typical of men to avoid seeing a doctor, it is best for them and their family if they didn't wait until a condition is severe or irreversible to treat. The earlier a cardiovascular disease is identified, the better the chances of survival.
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