Heart Disease Myths Debunked

Author:
Alexa Ferrante
Myth versus facts

Five minute read

Circulating blood through your veins, getting rid of waste and simultaneously providing you with oxygen and nutrients – your heart is undoubtedly the hardest-working muscle in the body. As the great conductor of your circulatory functions, your heart deserves the best care you can give. That is why, when it comes to your heart, you can never be too careful.

You may think you know everything about your heart health, but it is very easy to be misled. While a good diet and frequent exercise can significantly decrease your chances of heart disease, simply maintaining a healthy lifestyle doesn’t always protect you from heart health risks. With so much information at your fingertips, it’s hard to determine what is true and what isn’t. Let us help you distinguish fact from fiction by discrediting five of the most common myths regarding heart and cardiovascular diseases. 

MYTH: If you are under a certain age, you do not need to worry about heart disease.

While many older adults develop heart conditions later in life, these diseases can appear in individuals at any age. You should not assume that simply because you are young, that you don’t need to worry about heart disease. Though it is true that the risk of a heart condition pointedly increases as you get older, younger adults should always practice heart healthy habits in order to avoid future cardiovascular issues. Heart conditions are prevented by healthy and active lifestyles, as well as frequent visits to your doctor – advice that everyone, no matter what age, should take into consideration. 

Heart disease includes a range of conditions that all affect different aspects of your heart. Many can be prevented by implementing a healthy diet and exercise into your daily routine, but others rely on a medical professional to monitor and track your heart activity.

Cardiovascular disease, though very similar to heart disease, refers to heart and blood vessel problems or the buildup of plaque in the artery walls. These types of conditions can be caused by high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol or caffeine, drug abuse, high stress and more. Just like heart diseases, these conditions do not distinguish between older and younger individuals. 

No matter how old you are, you can help your body avoid risks to your cardiovascular system by improving your heart healthy habits. Do your future self a favor and start taking care of your heart today.

MYTH: You will experience obvious symptoms before you contract heart disease.

Most individuals who experience life-threatening heart problems are not able to predict them based on signs and symptoms.  The most common risk factors of heart disease are high blood pressure and high cholesterol – both of which have no symptoms at all. Therefore, it is extremely important to make periodic appointments with your physician to check your heart for any abnormal activity.

When an individual has high blood pressure, it means that the arteries are clogged, and the heart is overworked. The blockages cause the heart to pump faster than normal and can eventually strain it to the point of an emergency. High blood pressure is unpredictable unless your doctor performs tests regularly, and most patients never actually experience symptoms until there is a serious problem such as a heart attack, kidney damage or a stroke. Get your blood pressure checked periodically and ask your doctor how you can lower it over time, if necessary.

High cholesterol also has no obvious symptoms, but you can diminish the chances of heart disease by staying in shape, not smoking and making regular appointments with your physician. Most individuals get their cholesterol checked every five years, but you can always ask your doctor to administer the tests more frequently if you are concerned about any heart problems.

The more noticeable symptoms of a heart condition vary from person to person and are therefore unpredictable. Some might experience physical pain in the neck and jaw, while others feel discomfort in the arms and legs.  While many people believe that chest pain is the most common sign of heart disease, the affects of the heart and bloodstream can be felt anywhere.

MYTH: If your family has a history of heart disease, you are destined to get it as well.

While genetic factors do play a role in your risk for heart diseases, this does not mean that those with a family history of heart disease are bound to get it as well. Such individuals should take prevention even more seriously, however, including regular check-ups where blood pressure and cholesterol are measured. Children in these family lines often begin with higher blood pressure, so a healthy lifestyle is critical to avoid any heart ailments as adults.
If you come from a family with several occurrences of heart diseases or cardiovascular conditions, it is extremely important for you to eat well, get plenty of exercise and monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. The steps you take today can significantly decrease the chances that you contract a condition as well. Put together an action plan to make sure you stay on track and encourage other members of your family to do likewise.

MYTH: If you are affected by heart disease, you should refrain from exercise.

Exercise has innumerable benefits for individuals with and without heart conditions, as it can help strengthen your cardiovascular system and keep your body moving regularly.
Even if you have an existing health condition, the American Heart Association recommends exerting your body at least three to four times per week for one to two hours in order to keep your heart healthy. In fact, most people who begin exercising after they have had a heart attack tend to live longer than those who take it easy. If you have an existing heart condition, ask your doctor about the different kinds of exercises that are right for you.

It is important to monitor your heart rate while you are exercising, but keep in mind that regular spikes and drops are normal when you are physically active. Watch for abnormal or irregular heartbeats during your exercises to make sure you are not experiencing an arrhythmia or any other type of strain on your cardiovascular system.

If strenuous exercise is too difficult for you, consider simply walking or stretching to make up those active minutes. A variety of fitness apps and gadgets are now available to you in order to help monitor your activity and keep you motivated all year long. Check out our blog on 4 Ways Technology Can Improve Your Health to learn more.

MYTH: If you are taking cholesterol or diabetes medication, you don’t have to worry about your heart.

Cholesterol medicine reduces the amount of cholesterol that circulates through the blood stream. Medications such as statins are necessary for individuals with high cholesterol, as they help to remove LDL, or harmful cholesterol, and raise HDL, or good cholesterol.

Many people who are taking consistent cholesterol medication use them as an excuse to stop eating healthy foods, when in fact, it is much more important to maintain a healthy diet than ever before. Eating healthy is important for everyone, but especially for individuals with heart conditions or a family history of cardiovascular problems.

In order to decrease the chances of heart disease, consider avoiding red meats and bulking up on fruits and vegetables. Limit the amount of fatty foods that you eat so you can eventually get off the medication and let your body fend for itself.  A balanced diet is the best way to prevent heart conditions and an easy solution to such a serious problem.

Reviewed by Dr. Steven J. Appleby, Cardiologist, MemorialCare Medical Group

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