Debunking Myths About Heart Disease

Learn the Facts 
and Take Them to HEART!

When someone hears the phrase “heart disease,” misconceptions often come to mind. The misconceptions could be false claims we’ve encountered as we’ve grown older; others may be rationalizations we present to ourselves in an attempt to hide from our own insecurities about our health.

One important fact is clear ‒ heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Each year around 610,000 Americans die of heart disease, accounting for 1 out of 4 deaths. The most common misunderstandings about heart disease have been around so long that many people take them to heart when they shouldn’t. Let us clear the air by debunking these myths:

  • Myth: Only older people can get heart disease.

Fact: Younger people and middle age adults can develop heart disease.

  • Myth: I don’t have high blood pressure…I feel fine.

Fact: High blood pressure is known as the silent killer; without 
monitoring, most people don’t know they have it.

  • Myth: My family has a history of heart disease, so there is nothing I can do about it.

Fact: Anyone, even those with a family history, can lower their risk of heart disease.

  • Myth: Chest pain is the tell-tale sign I’m having a heart attack.

Fact: Chest pain is only one possible symptom. Pain in the arms, back, jaw, neck and shortness of breath can occur.

  • Myth: Cholesterol is something that needs to be checked when I’m older.

Fact: People should begin having their cholesterol checked beginning at age 20.

  • Myth: Leg pain is a normal symptom with aging ‒ it has nothing to do with heart disease.

Fact: In some cases, leg pain can be an indicator of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).

These are just some of the myths the general public (even some of my patients) believe until they receive correct information and education.

As mentioned, a common misconception is that only older adults can develop heart disease. Younger women should take note of this misconception. In a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that young women who experience a heart attack or stroke could continue to face an increased risk of death, or another heart attack or stroke, long after their first event.  Researchers found that these younger women (about 40 years old on average) who had a heart attack had a death rate 3.7 times higher than healthy women. Younger women who experienced a stroke had death rates that were 1.8 times higher. In addition, younger women who’ve had a heart attack are 20-times more likely to have a second one.

Although these statistics are disturbing, women who have had a heart attack or stroke can decrease their likelihood of becoming a statistic for a second time. They should consult with their physician about effective strategies including weight management, increasing activity level, tobacco cessation programs and lowering their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Men can also reduce their risk for heart attacks with a set of similar strategies as women. A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that men can significantly reduce their risk for heart attacks by following five strategies: focusing on a healthy diet, exercising regularly, staying in shape, not using tobacco and limiting alcohol intake. This study estimated that 80 percent of heart attacks that occur in men are potentially preventable.

Some of the findings were encouraging. For example, it found that men who quit using tobacco lowered their risk by 36 percent, those who kept their waist size under 37 inches lowered their risk by 12 percent, and men who ate vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains, nuts and low-fat dairy products lowered their risk by 18 percent.

Those who would like to find out their heart healthy numbers can schedule a cholesterol and glucose screening at St. Luke’s Hospital. The consultation also includes blood pressure and body composition measurement. Appointment is required. Fee $20. To register, call 314.542.4848 or visit: