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8 Common Heart-Disease Myths You Should Know About

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Heart disease is often referred to as a “silent killer” because so many people don’t realize they’re at risk or have cardiovascular health issues. The malady kills about 2,200 Americans every day, making heart disease deadlier than all forms of cancer combined. And yet, there are still so many myths about heart disease floating around.

As American Heart Month continues, here are eight of those myths, and what the real truth is:

Myth: Only Middle-Aged Men Have to Worry About Heart Disease

Truth: In reality, heart disease affects people of all ages. Adults can be at risk at any time, especially based on early life habits. Even children can have cholesterol, blood pressure, angina and arrhythmia issues, considering the increasing childhood obesity epidemic. And, forget thinking heart disease is a men’s issue. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in America, even more so than cancer. One in three women will die from heart disease, compared to one out of 31 who die of breast cancer.

Myth: You Can Feel the Symptoms of Heart Disease

Truth: One of the reasons heart disease is such a big public health concern is that it doesn’t always come with perceivable symptoms. For instance, you can only tell if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol by having a blood test, and these are two problems that put you at huge risk for heart disease. Heart attack symptoms can be just as difficult to identify, especially in women. It’s not always chest pains and shortness of breath. Exhaustion and fainting can be signs of a heart attack. Even if you can feel symptoms of heart issues, many times the symptoms are elsewhere in your body (like leg pain) and aren’t attributed to your cardiovascular health.

Myth: People Who Are Fit Can’t Have Heart Disease

Truth: People who exercise and eat a healthful diet have most likely reduced their risk of certain heart disease factors, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something they have to be concerned about. Even if someone is in excellent physical condition, she should still have her blood pressure and cholesterol checked, especially if there’s a family history of heart disease. Smoking is another behavior that can drastically increase your risk of stroke, even if you’re very healthy otherwise.

Myth: Heart Disease Risk Can’t Be Reduced

Truth: First, having a family history of heart disease does put you at a greater risk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce that risk. Exercise and a healthy diet (and not smoking) can go a long way toward reducing your risk. And, regular check-ups can provide early warnings about blood pressure and plaque in your arteries. Second, even if you’ve smoked for years, quitting smoking can still reduce your risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that a person who quits smoking will have cut down their risk of heart disease by 50 percent within one year. In 10 years, it will be like you had never smoked.

Myth: Taking Vitamins and Supplements Will Reduce Risk

Truth: Vitamins and supplements are good for adding nutrients to your diet that you aren’t getting with food, but no tests or trials have ever confirmed the benefit of dietary supplements for reducing heart disease risks. Regularly consuming antioxidant vitamins such as E, C and beta carotene can help lower heart disease risk factors, but because vitamins are best absorbed when they come from food, a healthy, well-balanced diet is still the best way to help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Myth: Cutting Fat From Your Diet Lowers Your Risk

Truth: Not all fat is bad, and experts are starting to question the theory that a low fat diet protects you from heart disease risk factors. Trans fats, partially hydrogenated and saturated fats are still considered unhealthy, but unsaturated fat is known to be beneficial. Plant fats found in nuts, avocados and vegetable oil are important in a balance diet. In fact, Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can help lower your risk of heart disease if you consume them twice a week. Just be aware that getting too much Omega-3 (overdoing it with supplements, perhaps) can cause internal bleeding.

Myth: Controlling Diabetes With Medicine Prevents Heart Disease

Truth: While keeping your diabetes under control with medication does balance the sugar levels in your blood, you still have to manage your risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, diabetes medications don’t have as much an effect on the larger blood vessels, which are more likely to become inflamed and diseased. This is what increases your risk of stroke or heart attack. Even if your blood sugar is low, you still have to maintain a healthy blood pressure and good levels of cholesterol. You have to remember that the risk factors that contributed to diabetes also contribute to heart disease.

Myth: You Shouldn’t Exercise After a Heart Attack or With Heart Disease

Truth: Exercise (in moderation) is one of the best ways to help reduce heart disease and get your cardiovascular health back in order, so only a very few patients are ever told not to be active after a heart attack or diagnosis of heart disease. Since you can reduce your risks and the affects of heart disease with exercise, a diagnosis is never a sentence to stop exercising. And there are many exercises you can do to help improve cardiovascular fitness and keep your blood flowing at the right pace. Of course, always talk with your doctor before doing anything you think might be risky. 

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