Many people don’t realize they have accepted misconceptions or outright myths about heart disease. And that misinformation can pose a danger to a person’s health.
For example, many adults under the age of 60 believe heart disease and its underlying risk factors are a concern mostly for older folks, or those who eat too much fried foods. But the reality is that heart disease can strike at any age, and can profoundly affect the lives even of people who eat the right things but may have a family history or other underlying issues that put them at risk.
“Heart disease knows no agenda,” says Alvaro Gomez, M.D. , cardiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute . “It affects both men and women. The age can definitely be a surprise to many. We are seeing younger and younger patients. There are always two big factors to consider: smoking and diabetes. Some young people may not even know they have diabetes or other risk factors.”
Another common myth is that men are at higher risk for heart disease than women. The truth is that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.
“Women can have a different presentation of symptoms compared to men,” says Dr. Gomez. “They don’t necessarily need to have the usual chest pains but they can have symptoms that are different, such as dizziness and weakness in general.”
Here are the top five heart disease myths, according to the American Heart Association:
5.) “Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.”
Quite the contrary. If you know of a family history of heart disease, particularly at a young age, then you can and should do something about it. People with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk and there are steps you can take to dramatically reduce your risk. With the help of healthcare professionals, you can create an action plan to keep your heart healthy exercising regularly, controlling cholesterol; eating healthier; managing blood pressure; maintaining a healthy weight; controlling blood sugar; and not smoking or drinking excessive alcohol.
4.) “Diabetes won’t affect my heart as long as I take my medication for controlling blood sugar.”
Treating diabetes, both through medication and lifestyle changes, can certainly help reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. But even when blood sugar levels are under control, you can still be at an elevated risk for heart disease and stroke. That’s because the risk factors that contribute to diabetes also make you more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. These overlapping risk factors include high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity and smoking.
3.) “I’ll know when I’m having a heart attack because I’ll have chest pain.”
Chest pain is the most recognized heart attack symptom, but it is not the only one. Although it’s common to have chest pain or discomfort, a heart attack may cause subtle symptoms, including shortness of breath, nausea, feeling lightheaded, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck or back. Women could certainly experience chest pain, but they should also be on the lookout for less obvious symptoms, such as light-headedness, excessive sweating, nausea, indigestion, and palpitations — sometimes in addition to shortness of breath and back pain. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, you should call 9-1-1 immediately.
2.) “I’d know if I had high blood pressure because there would be warning signs.”
Many people who don’t get checked regularly may not know they have high blood pressure because the condition does not produce symptoms — most of the time. That’s why hypertension is called the “silent killer.” The best way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to see your primary care physician. You can keep monitoring your blood pressure at home, if needed, according to your doctor’s advice. Treating hypertension early is vital because, if left untreated, it can cause heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and other serious health problems.
1.) “I’m too young to worry about heart disease.”
The choices a person makes while in their 20s, 30s and 40s have a major impact on his or her risk for cardiovascular disease later in life. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries, which could lead to clogged arteries later in life. That’s why maintaining a healthy weight — through regular exercise and proper nutrition — is so important. One in three Americans has cardiovascular disease, but not all of them are over 60. Even young and middle-aged people can develop heart problems – especially since obesity, type 2 diabetes and other risk factors are becoming more common at a younger age.