Even though the heart is one of the most important organs in the body, most of us make assumptions about heart disease risks, sometimes founded on only a morsel of truth, that are dangerous to that oh-so-vital organ. As with anything that concerns your health, knowledge is power… getting to the bottom of those popular myths, and understanding the truth, is a key to keeping your heart healthy, or recognizing signs of danger, before it’s too late.
Here are six well-worn myths along with the facts to set you straight.
MYTH #1: You’d “know” if you were suffering with hypertension or high cholesterol. Because, after all, you do have supernatural powers, right?
Truth is, unless you get a blood pressure reading or a cholesterol test you won’t know where you stand. Risks for heart disease are usually silent and symptomless… they don’t call hypertension the “silent” killer for nothing. It is silent, and deadly. And even those who are thin and in shape can (and do) have high cholesterol numbers… quietly damaging the body you think is in optimum health.
MYTH #2: Heart disease is the same for men and women. We all have hearts, after all, don’t we? Unfortunately heart disease affects men and women very differently; women are more likely to have less traditional heart attack symptoms than men.
A 2003 study looked at symptoms reported by 515 women prior to having a heart attack. The study found that at least a month before the attack, the women felt unusual fatigue (70%), weakness, sleep disturbances or shortness of breath (50%), and a surprising percentage (43% to be exact) had no chest pain during the heart attack itself.
This doesn’t mean you need to worry over unusual symptoms, but if you meet the criteria for heart trouble risk factors, you need to pay close attention and anything new needs to be brought to your doctor’s attention.
MYTH #3: Young women aren’t at risk for heart disease. Women may think they’re not susceptible to heart problems, believing this is a problem for older people… those in their middle years also think they’re safe. Yet heart disease is the number one cause of death for U.S. women, and not all of those patients are elderly.
What’s more, risk factors like obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure becoming more common in younger females, and heart disease might well follow suit. Men are likely to suffer from a heart attack in their 50s, while women are more prone to heart attack in their 60s.
MYTH #4: It’s too late to make changes once diagnosed with heart disease. So not true. You can make changes today that have been shown in studies to repair the damage.
It’s your lifestyle, choices you make every day, that’s a critical part of turning things around. Exercising, eating right (healthy, balanced meals with lots of fruits/veggies) and not smoking are all things you can do, today, to restore your heart and keep it healthy.
MYTH #5: Exercise is a risky activity for people with heart disease. Nice try, but this is generally not the case.
Within 2 weeks of a heart attack, patients are usually encouraged to get into rehab and start exercising; very few patients have significant restrictions. And we know exercise can stop the progression of heart disease, making it less likely these patients will have another heart attack. Start with 10 minutes a day and work up from there, by 10 minutes a week until you’re achieving around 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise on most days.
MYTH #6: Aspirin and fatty acids do nothing but good. Generally speaking this is true, however there are some important caveats to the heart healthy benefits. For example, aspirin can irritate the stomach and some are even allergic. In some cases the risks outweigh the potential benefit.
The American Heart Association does recommend eating fatty fish at least two times a week, or supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids to reduce heart disease risks. However, it’s important to note that higher doses are not better, and can cause problems, so don’t over do it.