Fact or Fiction? Top 10 Myths about Heart Disease

What you think you know about heart disease may harm your health! Heart disease defies many preconceived notions. Replace these 10 heart disease myths with heart health facts so you can take action to lower your risk.

1. Heart disease is a man’s disease.

Heart disease affects more women than men and it causes more deaths than all forms of cancer combined. Heart disease claims the lives of one in three women. In contrast, one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year.

2. If you have no symptoms, you’re OK.

Of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease, 64 percent experience no signs. And when women do have symptoms they often differ from the classic heart attack symptom typically suffered by men: extreme chest pain. Instead, women often experience shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Other women’s symptoms may include dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.

Fact or Fiction - Top 10 Myths about Heart Disease - In Content

3. Heart disease is only a concern for older people.

Your risk of heart disease increases as you grow older. But other factors contribute to the risk throughout life, and you can have symptoms at any age. In fact, you can be born with a heart condition. And other factors, such as lifestyle practices (lack of physical activity, being overweight, overeating and smoking) can raise your risk. The combination of smoking and birth control pills increases the risk by 20 percent.

4. If you’re fit, you don’t have to worry about heart disease.

While exercising regularly, maintaining a nutritious diet and abstaining from tobacco reduce your risk, these practices don’t completely safeguard you. Other factors play a role, including family history.

You can be fit and trim and still have high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure, conditions that often occur without symptoms. Because of this, it’s important to see your doctor for regular checkups to catch symptoms as they arise and follow prescribed treatment, including lifestyle modification.

5. If heart disease runs in your family, there’s not much you can do.

It’s true that you can’t choose your relatives. But it’s also true that you can take action to reduce your risk of heart disease, despite your family history. Work with your doctor to develop a heart disease prevention plan that includes physical activity, a well-balanced diet, weight control, avoidance of tobacco use, and stress management.

6. You’ll know if you have high blood pressure.

That’s not necessarily so. High blood pressure earns the moniker “the silent killer.” It often occurs without symptoms. You may not be aware you have a problem, at least not until heart disease is advanced. A simple blood pressure test will tell you whether your blood pressure is normal or whether you need treatment. The earlier treatment begins, the better. Untreated high blood pressure leads to heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and other serious health problems.

Of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease, 64 percent experience no signs.

7. You can wait until middle age to have your cholesterol checked.

The American Heart Association recommends cholesterol checks every five years starting at age 20. Even earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. Even children can have high cholesterol levels.

8. Your aching legs must be a sign of aging.

Pain in your leg muscles could be a warning you have peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD raises the risk for heart attack or stroke and results from plaque building up in leg arteries and blocking blood flow.

9. Diabetes isn’t a problem for your heart if you take your medication.

Treating diabetes can help reduce your risk. But even when you keep your blood sugar levels under control with medication and diet, diabetes raises your risk for heart disease and stroke. Why? The risk factors that contribute to diabetes (high blood pressure, excess weight and obesity, inactivity and smoking) also contribute to heart disease.

10. Once you’ve had a heart attack, you should avoid exercise.

On the contrary, stay as active as possible, following an exercise plan approved by your doctor. Heart attack survivors who exercise regularly and adopt other heart-healthy practices, according to research, live longer than those who are inactive. For most heart attack survivors, moderate-intensity activity is considered safe and beneficial.

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