Heart disease myths debunked

by Gabrielle Taylor August 10, 2017

Heart disease myths debunked

Are you, like many other Australians, under the impression that heart disease only affects the elderly?

It’s a very common misconception and it couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, coronary artery disease can and does affect people as early as in their twenties.

Heart problems are no longer an issue exclusively associated with old age, but increasingly young and middle-aged individuals - especially with current numbers of obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension and other risk factors becoming more prevalent at a younger age than ever before.

It’s important to remember that how you live now affects your risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. So, while Maccas for breakfast might seem permissible at this stage, plaque can start accumulating within the body and lead to cardiovascular complications down the track.

Here are 6 common myths about heart disease so you can stay informed and heart-healthy:

  1. Heart disease is a men's disease.

“Heart disease is "for men" and breast cancer is "for women"” is a common misconception. According to an article published on AsiaOne, “the reality is that cardiovascular disease singularly causes the most number of female deaths internationally. In fact, it is more fatal than all cancers combined - including breast cancer - and affects more women than men.”

Although heart attacks in women occur at a lower rate than in men, the risk for women dramatically increases after menopause. Often, women may brush off symptoms of heart disease due to an inability to recognise them as indicators of the illness.

  1. All cholesterol is bad.

According to the article on AsiaOne, “LDL-C is known as "bad" cholesterol, because high levels of it can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and result in heart disease and stroke. Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats can raise blood cholesterol and are commonly found in fried fast foods, pies and pastries, fries, doughnuts and fatty meats.”

However, on the other hand, HDL cholesterol absorbs "bad" cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, which flushes it from the body. Therefore, HDL is commonly known as "good" cholesterol, given its potential to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

There are many foods that promote a healthy level of HDL cholesterol, including oils like olive, rice bran or sunflower oils and foods like avocado, nuts, seeds and fish.

  1. If I reduce my salt intake, my sodium intake is regulated.

Another common misconception regarding heart disease is that salt intake is linked to sodium intake, which is not completely accurate. The daily recommended salt intake amount advised by health experts is 5g.

However, even if you cut down on the amount of salt you add to your food, salt/sodium is hidden in condiments, canned foods, deli meats and restaurant food.

This unknowingly elevates your blood pressure, in turn increasing your risk of heart disease. A 2013 study from Harvard Medical School predicted that even gradually reducing sodium intake by four per cent per year, over 10 years, could save up to half a million lives.

  1. I am doomed to suffer from heart disease if it runs in my family.

Traditionally, certain genetic markers have been associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, their overall effect on risk beyond traditional risk factors has not been established, and they have not conclusively proven to improve on the prediction of coronary heart disease risk.

At this stage, genetics are not used definitively in determining overall cardiovascular risk, so there is no large cause for alarm even if you have a family history of heart disease.

Having said that, it is important to take precautionary steps as far as possible. To reduce risk, opt for heart-healthy nutrition.

Switch out meals that are high in oil for those containing leafy greens, beans, nuts, lean poultry and fish.

  1. If I was in any danger of having high blood pressure or a heart attack, I would have felt the signs already.

This is possibly one of the most dangerous myths of all, and a huge reason why annual health checks are so important. High blood pressure is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’ because you might not know you have it.

Most people recognise heart trouble through its obvious symptoms - pain in the chest, shortness of breath and bouts of cold sweat. However, a heart attack may not always manifest in the same way, and sometimes reveals no symptoms at all.

This is called a silent heart attack - affected people often do not realise that they need to seek emergency care.

  1. There is no need for me to undergo any heart screenings until a problem arises.

Like anything else, to reduce your risk of heart disease, prevention is paramount. Whilst the symptoms of heart disease can be managed and alleviated after proper treatment, there is no single cure for the condition.

Additionally, it is possible to take steps to prevent multiple health issues relating to the heart by adopting a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle, including exercise for at least 20-30 minutes every day.

And last, but definitely not least, you should consider undergoing a full medical checkup at least once a year that includes assessment of cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.

A focused history and physical examination by a doctor, along with an estimate of the short and long-term risk of heart disease, should also be included in annual heart screenings.

So, there you have it, 6 key myths about heart disease debunked and discouraged. Take care of your heart health today and prevent your risk of the ‘silent killer’ before it’s too late!

Gabrielle Taylor
Gabrielle Taylor


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