Heart disease: It’s the number one killer in America. But despite that stat, a new survey by the Cleveland Clinic reports that almost 75 percent of Americans aren’t worried about dying from it.
What’s more, more than one-quarter of Americans with a family history of the disease don’t take any preventative steps to protect their heart, even though they are at significantly higher risk of developing the disease.
“You hear about something so many times, and you almost become numb to it,” says Richard Krasuski, M.D., director of the Adult Congenital heart Disease Center at the Cleveland Clinic. But unless you’re one of the rare few who lead a perfectly healthy lifestyle and have a perfect genetic background, you should consider heart disease a risk, he says.
Think you know the best habits to protect your heart, or could spot the warning signs of ticker trouble? The same survey revealed most Americans are misinformed about pretty much everything surrounding heart disease. Here are the truths behind five of the most common myths.
Myth #1: The main symptom of a heart attack is chest pain.
Truth: Heart attacks come in all shapes and sizes. The heart often refers pain to other parts of the body because it doesn’t have as many pain receptors, says Dr. Krasuski. Heart attacks can manifest as an ache in your jaw or in your arm, and usually gets worse with exertion and better with rest. And while these pains should sound the bigger alarms, 70 percent of Americans polled were unaware of the smaller symptoms of general heart disease, like shortness of breath when exercising, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping- all of which could be signs of abnormal blood flow to the heart.
Myth #2: A low-fat diet without red meat and cheese is best at keeping your heart health.
Truth: A whole diet approach- focused on eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish- is more effective at reducing cardiovascular risk, reports a new study in The American Journal of Medicine. “The micronutrients in vegetables, nuts, and olive oil protect against heart disease itself,” says study author James Dalen, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Arizona College of Medicine. And while a whole diet approach does include eating less meat and processed cheeses, it also includes fats- just the healthy ones like those in olive oils and nuts.
Myth #3: Multi-vitamins and fish oil can prevent heart disease.
Truth: Although vitamins may help your overall health, they won’t prevent the disease, and could actually cause more problems, says Dr. Krasuski. Decades-old studies that suggested various vitamins, like E, and fish oil could prevent heart disease have since been disproven. Supplements don’t offer all the nutrients of food. And if you’re thinking, “It might not help, but it certainly won’t hurt,” Dr. Krasuski also points out that high levels of certain vitamins can interact with other medications, cause liver damage, or cause heart failure. Ask your doctor before you start popping pills- even natural ones.
Myth #4: You don’t need to worry about your salt intake.
Truth: “The average American consumes probably four to five times the amount of salt they actually need,” says Dr. Krasuski. Higher levels of salt- which are commonly hidden in condiments, canned foods, deli meats, and restaurant food- raise your blood pressure, which in turn raises your risk for heart disease. In fact, a 2013 study from Harvard Medical School and other institutions predicted that even gradually reducing sodium intake by 4 percent per year over 10 years could save up to half a million lives over a decade.
Myth #5: There is a heart disease gene.
Truth: There are genetic factors that increase your risk, says Dr. Krasuski, but it’s not a single gene- though 59 percent of people polled think so. Many different genes determine how well you process cholesterol or the health of your blood vessels. It’s easiest to determine your risk based on your relatives: Any first-degree relative who develops heart disease is a potential red flag, warns Dr. Krasuski. If that person was a smoker and had poor diet, it might not necessarily be in your genes, but if the relative developed the disease young and was very active, your risk is probably higher. If you have a family history, take preventative measures- eat a proper diet, exercise regularly, quit smoking, and know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, Dr. Krasuski adds.
Have you heard any possible myths about heart health/heart disease? Share in the comments below.
By Rachael Schultz
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