There are plenty of misconceptions about heart disease out there, from who can get it to how it feels. Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, and in many cases, it’s preventable.
Can you tell the myths from the facts? Learn more about who is at risk, the symptoms of heart disease, and how you can keep your risk low.
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Heart Disease Myths vs. Facts
Myth: Heart Disease Is a Man’s Problem
Fact: One of the biggest misconceptions about heart disease is that it only affects men, but heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. While many women may think their greatest health risk is breast cancer, more women die from heart disease each year than from all types of cancer combined.
Heart attack symptoms can be different in men and women, so it’s important to learn the signs, to understand your risk factors, and to make heart-healthy choices in diet, activity, stress management, and other habits to help keep your risks low.
Myth: Heart disease Only Happens to Older People
Fact: While your risk for some heart problems gets higher as you age, heart conditions can affect anyone, no matter how old they are. Some heart problems are congenital, or present at birth, and may be diagnosed shortly after a baby is born or later in life when they cause symptoms. Other conditions, like cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), heart valve problems, and heart rhythm problems can happen to anyone at any age.
It’s also important to remember that the choices you make at a younger age — like your diet, activity level, and whether you smoke — will affect your heart as you get older. By making heart-healthy choices when you’re young, you can get into the habit of eating well, getting regular physical activity, finding healthy ways to cope with stress, and keeping regular appointments with your doctor to make sure you get the recommended screenings.
Myth: Heart Disease Always Causes Symptoms, so I’d Know if I Had It.
Fact: High blood pressure and high cholesterol — two major risk factors for heart disease — have no symptoms. In some cases, you may only know you have these conditions when something serious and even life-threatening, like a heart attack or stroke, happens.
By having regular checkups with your doctor, you can keep an eye on your numbers and find out if they’re in a healthy range. If not, your doctor can recommend a treatment plan, which may include lifestyle changes and medicines, to help control your blood pressure and cholesterol and lower your risks.
Myth: Diabetes Won’t Affect My Heart if I Take My Medicine.
Fact: Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease, so it’s important to control it with medicines and healthy lifestyle choices. People with diabetes may be at a higher risk of developing heart disease because the two conditions share other common risk factors, like high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, and smoking. If you have diabetes, make sure you talk to your doctor about how to control your condition and lower your risk for heart disease.
Myth: I’m Getting Older, So Symptoms Like Fatigue and Shortness of Breath Are Normal
Fact: Your body changes as you age, but you should talk to your doctor about any changes in how you feel, especially symptoms like:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fluttering in the chest, also called heart palpitations
- Swelling in your feet or ankles
- Fast weight gain
- Pain in your legs when you walk or climb stairs
These symptoms can be signs of heart and vascular problems that are much easier to treat if caught early.
Myth: Heart Disease Runs in My Family, So there’s Nothing I Can Do to Prevent It
Fact: Another one of the biggest heart disease myths is that if it runs in your family, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. If your parents, grandparents, or siblings had heart disease, you can take control by learning about your risk factors, making healthy choices, and getting regular checkups to catch any problems early.
Myth: I’m in Good Shape, So It’s Not Possible for Me to Have Heart Disease
Fact: While getting regular physical activity can help lower your risk of heart disease, it’s still possible for you to develop a heart problem. Some conditions, like high cholesterol and heart muscle disease, can be passed down in families, so no matter how fit you are, you may be at risk.
Knowing your family history and keeping regular appointments with your doctor is an important part of overall health. Your doctor can recommend heart screenings that will help you keep an eye on these types of risk factors.
To learn more visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.