Busting 7 common heart disease myths
Advice about heart health is everywhere, but how reliable is it? Should you take an aspirin every day? If you don’t have a family history of heart disease, are you in the clear? Cardiologist James Ampadu, MD, addressed these common heart disease myths and more.
Myth 1: Everyone should take an aspirin a day for good heart health.
Aspirin helps prevent blood clots that can cause heart attack and stroke. It works by inhibiting platelets, which are involved in the body’s mechanism of forming blood clots. The downside is that you’re also thinning the blood, which puts you at risk for bleeding.
“The guidelines have changed over the past few years,” Dr. Ampadu explained. “If you’re older than 60, or if you’re between age 40 to 59 without significant cardiac risk, it’s not recommended to take an aspirin every day because it increases the risk of bleeding. If you’re between the ages of 48 to 59 and have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, you need to talk to your physician about whether taking aspirin is appropriate.”
Myth 2: Only the elderly have heart attacks.
Heart disease is being found in people as early as childhood and adolescence, and rates seem to be increasing. Why?
“I would say we’re seeing younger patients suffer from heart attacks and heart failure because we’re seeing early onset and advancement in risk factors for cardiovascular disease in this population,” Dr. Ampadu said. “This includes being obese, having high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and smoking cigarettes. It’s also important to know your family history because you may be taking on risks even without those comorbidities. So, it’s good to have regular visits with a primary care provider.”
Myth 3: If you have high blood pressure, you can tell.
This is one of the most potentially dangerous heart disease myths, because hypertension, or high blood pressure, is so common. High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer,” because it can cause stress and damage to your heart and other organs without any signs or symptoms. Controlling your lifestyle choices and having regular visits with a primary care provider to check your numbers are important.
Myth 4: Heart disease can be reversed.
Heart disease is a broad term that includes coronary artery disease (the narrowing of the arteries) as well as heart failure.
“First and foremost, heart disease can indeed be prevented,” Dr. Ampadu said. “If you develop heart disease, it can be stabilized though treatment, and then once it’s stabilized, it can be improved. This is done by focusing on the things that contribute to heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity and obstructive sleep apnea.”
While it can be treated and your overall health can improve, heart disease is never cured or reversed.
Myth 5: I won’t get heart disease if it doesn’t run in my family.
Having a family history of heart disease is an important risk factor, but it’s not the only risk factor.
“Being overweight or obese increases inflammation throughout the whole body, and that can add stress to the heart,” Dr. Ampadu said. “We also look at weight distribution. We look at your waist circumference because you can have a lot of central obesity or abdominal weight that’s linked to having fatty tissue around your visceral organs and stress on the heart. And that’s all been associated with increased mortality from cardiovascular.”
Other risk factors include smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Get tips for preventing heart disease here.
Myth 6: Taking supplements such as fish oil will help my heart.
“If you eat a balanced diet, taking supplements and vitamins offers no significant benefit or reduction in cardiovascular mortality,” Dr. Ampadu said. “The only supplement that actually helps is folic acid, which has been shown to reduce stroke and cardiovascular events. But currently the recommendation is to eat a balanced diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits and low in trans fats and saturated fats.”
Myth 7: Hot weather is better for your heart.
“There’s some data that has shown an association between higher temperatures – greater than 95 degrees Fahrenheit – and more humid environments and an increase in heart attacks and irregular heart rhythms,” Dr. Ampadu said. “It’s an association rather than causation, but it’s always important to take the necessary precautions. Check the weather, make sure you stay hydrated, and if you’re going to be outside, try to use sunblock and stay in shady areas if possible.”
South Carolina’s hot and humid summers can put stress on your body, so be sure to follow our tips for beating the heat to keep yourself cool and comfortable, and schedule an appointment with your doctor if you’re still struggling in the warmer months.
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