Lake Regional Heart Month: Myths about heart disease

Rose Green-Flores
Lake Regional Health
Lake Regional Cardiologist Muthu Krishnan, M.D., FACC.

In recognition of American Heart Month in February, Lake Regional Health System is providing education to Lake Sun readers on various heart health topics.

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In the United States, heart disease causes one out of every four deaths. Despite its prevalence, there is still a lot of misinformation surrounding heart disease. 

“Relying on myths can be dangerous to your heart,” said Lake Regional Cardiologist Muthu Krishnan, M.D., FACC. “Education is key to making heart-healthy behavior changes.” 

Here, Dr. Krishnan corrects four common misconceptions surrounding heart disease. 

1. Heart disease is a man’s problem.

Heart disease used to be considered a man’s disease, but in reality, heart disease is the No. 1 killer for women and men. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease and stroke cause one in three deaths among women each year – more than all cancers combined.  Most women have the same symptoms as men, but women are more likely to experience pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen or extreme fatigue as symptoms of a heart attack. 

“Women need to realize that heart disease is a threat, and they should receive routine heart health screenings,” Dr. Krishnan said. “For women and men, caring for your heart through regular exercise and a balanced diet is the best prevention tool.”

2. Young people do not need to worry about heart disease.

Heart disease occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries. 

“The lifestyle habits people have in childhood through early adulthood can impact their risk for heart disease later,” Dr. Krishnan said. “Plaque can start accumulating in the arteries as early as childhood. Overeating, leading a sedentary lifestyle and smoking are all habits that can increase the risk of developing heart disease. It is never too early or too late to start making heart-healthy choices.”  

Even if you lead an active lifestyle and eat a balanced diet, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t be affected by heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends people start getting their cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if heart disease runs in the family. And get your blood pressure screened as well. 

3. People with heart disease have to take it easy.

A heart attack, heart surgery or diagnosis of heart disease does not mean physical activity should be avoided. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that heart attack survivors who are regularly physically active and make other heart-healthy changes live longer than those who don’t. Exercise plans are generally encouraged for heart disease patients, but involve your health care provider. Ask for advice on staying active and whether you are a good candidate for a cardiac rehabilitation program. 

4. You will show symptoms before having heart disease. 

High cholesterol and high blood pressure are both risk factors for heart disease. However, neither of these conditions usually cause any symptoms. This means you could have one of these risk factors and feel OK, even though it could be causing damage to your heart and arteries. Talk with your health care provider to see how frequently you should be screened for cholesterol and blood pressure. If your numbers are high, your provider might recommend lifestyle changes or medication. 

“Another misconception is that people experiencing a heart attack will always have chest pain or discomfort,” Dr. Krishnan said. “Not everyone has typical heart attack symptoms. Although chest discomfort is the most common, you might know you are experiencing a heart attack through more subtle symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue or nausea.”

Call 911 immediately if you suspect you might be having a heart attack, even if you are not sure. 

Dr. Krishnan is a member of a comprehensive heart care team at Lake Regional Health System. This team includes interventional cardiologists and a cardiovascular-thoracic surgeon, as well as registered nurses and X-ray technologists who specialize in heart care. As a Level II STEMI Center, Lake Regional is equipped to provide timely, definitive heart attack care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Learn more at lakeregional.com/heartcare.