Heart health: Common myths busted by doctors about heart diseases

Published on Nov 22, 2022 02:27 PM IST

Right information and timely action can prevent heart diseases and improve your health even after diagnosis. Relying on false assumptions can be dangerous to your heart and everyone should be aware of these common myths so as to avoid unnecessary panic

Heart health: Common myths busted by doctors about heart diseases (Karolina Grabowska)
Heart health: Common myths busted by doctors about heart diseases (Karolina Grabowska)
ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

Globally, heart disease is number one cause of death and it accounts for 17.9 million deaths each year and just the words heart disease can be scary but there are many myths surrounding this term and it is easy to be fooled by misconceptions. Right information and timely action can prevent heart diseases and improve your health even after diagnosis.

Relying on false assumptions can be dangerous to your heart and everyone should be aware of the common myths so as to avoid unnecessary panic at one end and timely diagnosis and treatment of heart disease at other end. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Nikhil Bansal, Consultant and Head - Department of CTVS at Fortis Ludhiana, shared, “Do we really know about our heart? It is easy to get fooled by misconceptions. All of us want to believe that heart disease happens only in elderly or to our fried food-loving friend. Relying on false assumptions can be dangerous for our heart so let’s set the record straight by separating facts from fiction!” He busted some common myths like:

MYTH 1: I am too young to have heart disease

How you live today decides your risk of having a heart disease later. Plaque starts to accumulate in the arteries from childhood. So unhealthy dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle can lead to heart problems even in young, especially now that obesity and diabetes are becoming common in this age group. Avoiding processed/packed foods, foods rich in saturated fats/sugars and at least an hour of physically activity every day go a long way.

MYTH 2: Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it

Having a family history does put you at a greater risk. But by having this knowledge, you can take certain steps to scale down the risks. Get physically active, eat healthy, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, and control your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

MYTH 3: I’d know if I had high blood pressure because there would be symptoms

It is called the “silent killer” for a reason. You might have a very high blood pressure and yet have no symptoms only to realize when the damage is already done. Left untreated, it can cause heart attack, stroke and kidney damage. Regular blood pressure monitoring is therefore essential.

MYTH 4: I’ll know when I’m having a heart attack because I’ll have chest pain

Although it is common to have chest pain but you can have a wide array of symptoms ranging from pain in one or both arms, jaw, neck or back, difficulty in breathing, irregular heartbeat, nausea, light headedness. In the beginning these symptoms usually occurs when you exert and disappear when you rest, so are easily missed or ignored. Only when the disease has progressed, you will have symptoms at rest.

MYTH 5: I am very old so getting treatment is not useful

This is the disease of the old and the success depends on how early you present to the doctor irrespective of your age. Getting treatment on time is the key. The more you wait, the more advanced is the disease, poorer are the results.

Heart disease can be fatal and are best avoided by maintaining a healthy lifestyle but knowing about the disease help us in catching it early and getting an effective treatment. Bringing her expertise to the same, Dr Maria Jyothi, Senior Consultant and Interventional Cardiologist at Apollo Hospitals in Bangalore, revealed -

1. Heart disease is a concern for men, not women: Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in women. CVD increases in women after the age of 60 years. While estrogen gives women some protection. After menopause, the risk tends to be fairly even between the females. In females, symptoms might be different, they may have shortness of breath, sweating, extreme fatigue, back ache, unusually rapid heart rates, giddiness and pain in abdomen.

2. I’m young. I don’t have to worry about heart diseases. It is a disease for old aged people: Heart problems can happen at any age. Young people with family history of heart disease, those who smoke, who are into illicit drug use, sedentary lifestyle, obesity and the ones not taking care of themselves are more prone to it. According to IHA, 60% of all heart attacks occur to people less than 50 years of age and 25% of attacks happen to people less than 40 years of age.

3. I’m only at risk for heart disease if it runs in my family: Unfortunately, not always true. Your habits can boost your risk too. Through having a strong family history is of a concern, people with various risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels and smoking acts as a cause for developing CVD. Health checkups need to be done regularly in people with existing risks of CVD.

4. Heart disease is easy to self-detect: Hypertension is a silent killer. People land up with heart failures, strokes, kidney failures. High blood pressures, elevated cholesterol levels and other key indicators are not things you can feel, so many people actually have no idea when their symptoms start, without a doctor’s checkup. This is why it is important to have regular health checkups.

5. Chest pain is the only sign of heart attack: Yes, chest pain is the common sign, but not always the only sign. In fact, many women have heart attacks without having chest pain at all. Other symptoms to watch for are shortness of breath, heart burn, upper abdomen pain, nausea, vomiting, back ache, jaw pain, dizziness and extreme fatigue. A silent heart attack known as a silent myocardial infarction, accounts for most heart attacks in men than compared to women.

6. Diet and exercise is the only way to improve heart health: Healthy food, minimizing the intake of excess oily fatty food, brisk walk for atleast 30-45 minutes a day, less stress and a peaceful mind would really help. At the same time, controlling high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol levels are equally important.

7. Exercise after a heart attack is risky: Brisk walking for 30-45 minutes a day is a must. Expending on your heart LV function, as your doctors would advise the extent of exercise, how safe is to return to normal activity.

8. My heart medication allows me to eat what I want: Medications are useful to control some extent of the disease, but can’t get away without changing your eating habits. Eating junk food, oily food and leading a sedentary lifestyle promote heart disease.

9. I don’t need to continue my medicines lifelong: No, this absolutely wrong. People suffering from hypertension, diabetes should regularly check their blood pressure and blood sugars, serially get monitored and take it lifelong. Similarly, cardiac patients must take medications.

10. I’m young. So I don’t need to check my cholesterol: Starting from 20 years of age, we recommend every person to get their lipid levels checked atleast once in 5 years. In case of a family history, earlier the better.

Adding to the list of myths, Dr Punish Sadana, Associate Director – Dept of Cardiology at Max Super Speciality Hospital in Dehradun, debunked some common myths which people should know about heart disease -

1. Young people do not to worry about heart disease: Although heart diseases are more common in people more than 60-65 years of age but its incidence is increasing in young population especially in developing countries like India as Obesity, Diabetes and other risk factors are becoming more common at younger age. So it is important to begin and healthy lifestyle at younger age.

2. Chest Pain is the only warning sign: It’s true that chest pin is the most common symptom of heart attack, there are other subtle symptoms like breathing difficulty, pain in the jaw, profuse sweating. Take these symptoms seriously for timely medical attention.

3. You can do nothing if heart disease runs in family: Eating a healthy diet low in cholesterol, moderate intensity exercise, control of other risk factors dramatically reduce the risk of development of heart disease.

4. Cholesterol needs to be checked after middle age: The American Heart Association recommends getting cholesterol checked every 5 years after age of 20 and even earlier if there is a family history of heart disease.

5. High blood pressure always have warning signs: High blood pressure is a silent killer and patients remain asymptomatic for long duration. Blood pressure should be regularly checked and kept under 140/90 mm of Hg to prevent complications like heart attack and stroke.

6. Diabetes won’t affect the heart, if a person is taking antidiabetics: Diabetes and heart disease have coinciding risk factors like hypertension, obesity, smoking etc. So even if sugar levels are controlled, a person is still at risk of heart disease.

7. Heart Failure means heart has stopped beating: Heart failure means heart is not pumping adequately leading to shortness of breath and body swelling and is treatable. It is Cardiac arrest in which heart stops breathing.

8. Pain in the legs has nothing to do with the heart: People think that pain in the legs may be the sign of aging but it might be due to blockage of arteries of legs and such patients are at high risk for heart attacks.

9. If a person is taking drugs for lowering cholesterol, he can eat anything: Cholesterol is either consumed in the food that you eat or produced in liver. Statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) reduce cholesterol production by liver but ingested cholesterol can still increase the blood levels.

10. Heart disease only really affects men: Although Men are more at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases at younger age but women catch up after menopause and have worse mortality after acute event.

11. A person should not exercise after heart attack: Exercise help strengthen the heart muscle and improves blood flow but it should be done after consultation with doctor.

12. Vitamins can prevent heart disease: No vitamin supplements can reduce the risk of heart disease. It cannot replace healthy diet and regular exercise.

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