There are plenty of misconceptions about heart disease out there, from who can get it to how it feels. Can you tell the myths from the facts? Learn more about who is at risk, the symptoms, and how you can keep your risk low.
Myth: Heart Disease Is a Man’s Problem
Fact: One of the biggest misconceptions about heart disease is that it only affects men. In 2014 in Italy 66% of deaths were attributable to diseases of the circulatory system and tumors. Heart disease is the number one killer for women (396.6 per 100 thousand inhabitants), while they are in second place in the men’s classification (325.7 per 100 thousand). Heart attack symptoms can be different in men and women, so it is 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 is 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 are 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 would 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 are 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 will not affect My Heart if I Take My Medicine.
Fact: Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease, so it is 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 am 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 is 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 is 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 am 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 is 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.
UPMC Institute for Health offers a cardiovascular and heart screening. For further information, please click here or contact the Center.