5 Heart Disease Myths and Misconceptions

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Dr. Samantha Crites, a Cardiologist at the Mon Health Heart and Vascular Center, busts five myths and misconceptions surrounding heart disease risks, signs and symptoms.

5 heart disease myths debunked

Myth #1: Heart disease mostly affects men.

Many women don’t know that their risk for heart disease can be just as high as men’s–and it can carry life-or-death consequences, according to Dr. Crites.

In fact, only 40 percent of women surveyed in an American College of Cardiology study reported having a heart health assessment, while 74 percent of them had at least one major risk factor.

Heart disease affects everyone, and it’s the number one killer among both men and women,” says Dr. Crites. “This misconception causes many women to miss their symptoms or delay seeing a doctor, so all women need to know and understand their risks–and get help as soon as they need it.”

Myth #2: Heart disease risk factors and symptoms are the same in women as they are in men.

Women can share similar risks factors for heart disease as men, like a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. But Dr. Crites stresses that women have unique risk factors that significantly increase their chances, including:

  • Menopause – Menopause increases risks due to a drop in estrogen levels.
  • Smoking – Women smokers are more likely to develop heart disease than men who smoke.
  • Stress, anxiety and depression – Women’s hearts are more vulnerable to certain mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, which increase heart disease risks.
  • Pregnancy-related disorders – Women who experience complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can experience them beyond childbirth, which increases heart disease risks.

Dr. Crites notes that symptoms of a distressed heart can differ in men and men as well.

“There are key difference in how men and women usually experience heart disease,” said Dr. Crites. “Women tend to report of shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting or dizziness more often than men.”

Myth #3: You’ll know if you have heart disease if you have chest pain.

While chest pain is a hallmark symptom of heart disease or heart attack, Dr. Crites says symptoms vary–and can even seem a bit unusual or unrelated at first glance.

“A lot of people will visit their dentist for tooth or jaw pain and find that nothing is wrong with their teeth,” said Dr. Crites. “That’s when it usually rings a bell, and they end up seeing a cardiologist.”

Symptoms of heart disease, according to Dr. Crites, are:

  • Crushing chest pain that radiates into the jaw and down the arm
  • Nausea
  • Tooth or jaw pain
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Heart pain

Myth #4: Only older adults should worry about heart disease.

It’s true that our heart disease risks begin to climb as we age, but that doesn’t mean only older adults should be concerned, says Crites.

“Our lifestyle while we’re younger plays a role in our risk for heart disease as we age,” says Crites. “People of all age groups should pay attention to their health, and families should focus on prevention by modeling healthy behaviors for their children.”

Other ways to cut heart disease risks, according to Dr. Crites, are to:

  • Cut down on the consumption of sugary snacks.
  • Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables into your diet.
  • Cut out processed foods and focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods,
  • Exercise at least 30 mins a day.
  • Quit smoking.

Myth #5: People who eat well and exercise can’t have heart disease.

A healthy diet and consistent exercise routine can both go far in cutting down heart disease risks. But even if you’re eating well and exercising often, you can still be at risk, says Dr. Crites.

“I’ve seen patients who have come in after a heart attack and their one and only risk factor was smoking,” said Dr. Crites. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a marathon runner or a health-conscious eater–if you’re smoking, or if you have a family history of heart disease, you can still carry a significant risk.”

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Crites.