The American Heart Association Top 10 Myths about Cardiovascular Disease

Do you know if your heart's healthy? Don't assume heart disease is reserved for your elderly neighbor or your fried food-loving uncle. Heart disease can affect people of any age, even those who exercise and eat right!

Lack of knowledge can be dangerous. Cardiovascular disease kills approximately 600,000 Americans each year - more than any other single disease. You can show your heart smarts by separating fact from fiction. Here are some common myths:

  • Myth 1: Heart disease is only a problem for elderly people
    Your lifestyle now affects your risk for cardiovascular diseases later. The plaque that leads to clogged arteries accumulates from childhood on. Over 30% of Americans have heart disease, but not all of them are seniors. Even young and middle-aged people can develop heart problems!
  • Myth 2: I would know if I had high blood pressure
    It is called the "silent killer" precisely because you don't usually know you have it. You may never experience symptoms. A sure way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked regularly! High blood pressure is one thing that can cause heart attack (as well as stroke, kidney damage and other serious health problems).
  • Myth 3: Chest pain is the sign of a heart attack
    Not always. Although it's common to have chest pain or discomfort there may be different symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, feeling lightheaded, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck or back. Call 911 even if you are not sure whether it is a heart attack or not.
  • Myth 4: Having Diabetes won't affect heart health as long as blood sugar is under control
    Diabetics have increased risk for heart disease even when their diabetes is under control. The risk factors that contribute to diabetes (obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, and high blood pressure) make you more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
  • Myth 5: Heart disease is hereditary so there is nothing you can do about it
    A family history of heart disease does increase your risk, but there are many things you can do to minimize it: exercise regularly, eat a heart healthy diet, check your blood pressure, don't smoke, drink alcohol sparingly or not at all (no more than 1 drink a day for women, 2 for men).
  • Myth 6: There is no need to check cholesterol unless you are overweight or elderly
    The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20 or even younger if your family has a history of heart disease.
  • Myth 7: Heart failure and cardiac arrest are the same thing
    During cardiac arrest the heart stops beating, the person loses consciousness and stops breathing normally. With heart failure the heart fails to pump blood as well as it should, causing shortness of breath, swelling in the feet and ankles or persistent coughing and wheezing.
  • Myth 8: Pain the legs is a sign of aging, not potentially a sign of heart disease
    Leg pain in the muscles could be a sign of a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD) which results from blocked arteries in the legs. The risk for heart disease increases five-fold for people with PAD.
  • Myth 9: If your heart is beating fast you are having a heart attack
    Some variation in heart rate is normal; for example, the rate speeds up during exercise and slows down when you're asleep. But sometimes, it can be a sign of arrhythmia, an abnormal or irregular heartbeat. Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can last long enough to impact how well the heart works and require a doctor's care.
  • Myth 10: Do not exercise after a heart attack
    It is important to get active with a plan approved for you by your doctor! Research shows that heart attack survivors who are regularly physically active and make other diet and lifestyle changes live longer than those who don't.

The American Heart Association has wonderful resources if you or a loved one is concerned about heart disease. Learn more about the American Heart Association's efforts to reduce death caused by cardiovascular disease at www.heart.org.

Published on February 15, 2012.