Heart Health: Separating the Truth From the Myths

11 months ago 21

When it comes to your heart, it’s very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. You may assume that heart disease is only something that happens to older people, or that you’d have symptoms if you did have it. If you have a strong family history of it, you may shrug and figure you can’t do anything about it. But before you reach for that burger and cheese fries, hear this: Cardiovascular disease kills more Americans each year than any other condition. But you can lower your risk and boost your heart smarts by separating fact from fiction. Here’s the straight talk on some common myths.

Myth No. 1: If I had high blood pressure or cholesterol, or other risk factors for heart disease, I'd know it.

Actually, no. Of the 75 million Americans who have high blood pressure, almost 15% -- about 11 million -- don’t know their blood pressure is too high. This means they aren’t getting treatment to control it. “Oftentimes, people with high blood pressure or high cholesterol are completely asymptomatic,” explains Nicholas Ruthmann, MD, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “Genetics also plays a strong role in both, so you could still silently be at elevated risk even if you’re active and not overweight.”

The best way to truly know if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol is to get an annual physical, Ruthmann stresses. This way, your doctor can check your blood pressure and run a blood test to check your cholesterol.  

Myth No. 2: Heart disease is the same for men and women.

Unfortunately, heart disease isn’t an equal opportunity killer. The symptoms of heart attack, for example, are often very different in men and women: “Men tend to present with more classic symptoms, like chest pain, related shoulder or arm pain, and sweating,” Ruthmann says. “But women often suffer from what we call ‘silent heart attacks.’ They may only feel fatigued or have flu-or cold-like symptoms.”

Women who have heart attacks are also more likely to get a wrong diagnosis. One recent study found that about 5% of women are likely to be misdiagnosed when they go to the hospital with a heart attack, compared to 3% of men.

Women are also more likely than men to have a type of heart condition known as microvascular coronary disease. This condition is difficult to pick up on screening tests like angiograms, says Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist and m...

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