You probably already know that smoking and avoiding exercise are bad for your heart. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to heart disease than these two risks. Even healthy people have heart attacks — and most people don’t even know they have high blood pressure or cholesterol. Here are a few key myths about heart disease you need to be aware of.
Myth No. 1: High blood pressure is a harmless side effect of aging
It’s normal for your blood pressure to rise as you get older — but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to ignore it. According to the National Institute on Aging, regardless of how old you are, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or hypertension, still comes with devastating health risks. Heart disease is only one of them. Your kidneys could fail, you could damage your eyes, and you could even have a stroke.
Next: You can have high blood pressure for years without knowing it.
Myth No. 2: It’s easy to tell if you have high blood pressure
Healthline warns that high blood pressure often presents without symptoms. Many people live with hypertension for years without knowing they have it, doing significant damage to their bodies over time. This is why you should always check in with your doctor annually, even if you don’t feel sick. Early intervention, if necessary, can protect your heart and reduce your heart disease risk.
Next: A heart attack is a heart attack, no matter how small.
Myth No. 3: A small heart attack is ‘no big deal’
The Telegraph warns that patients who suffer mild heart attacks might be at a higher risk of dying. Regardless of size, a heart attack can still cause major damage to your heart muscle, especially if doctors don’t treat it as aggressively as a major heart attack. A heart attack means something is preventing enough blood from getting to your heart, and that’s something you need to take seriously.
Next: Having heart disease shouldn’t stop you from doing this one thing.
Myth No. 4: If you have heart disease, you can’t be physically active
You don’t have to stay on the couch just because you have a bad heart. Healthline recommends as little as 30 minutes of exercise several times a week to maintain overall heart health. Just speak with your doctor before you start a new fitness routine. Working out with heart disease isn’t always dangerous, but a professional can tell you how much, and which exercises, are safe for you specifically.
Next: Don’t cut this nutrient out of your diet just because you have heart disease.
Myth No. 5: You have to go on a low-fat diet to protect your heart
Don’t waste your time following a low-fat diet for heart health. Evidence emerging over the past few years suggests avoiding saturated fat — or fat altogether — doesn’t help your heart. Experts believe refined carbohydrates, which mostly occur in heavily processed foods, contribute to heart disease much more than saturated fat does. That’s right — it’s added sugar you need to worry about, not fat.
Next: This habit will still hurt your heart, even if you take medication.
Myth No. 6: You can eat whatever you want if you’re on medication
According to Mayo Clinic, there are several ways doctors can treat heart disease. The particular treatments they choose depends on your specific condition, and how well you respond to certain types of treatment. If diet and exercise aren’t enough to improve symptoms, your doctor might prescribe medications in addition to healthy lifestyle habits. Taking medications, however, doesn’t mean you can eat poorly. All treatments need to work together to keep you healthy.
Next: Diabetes meds aren’t a heart disease shield.
Myth No. 7: As long as you’re on diabetes medication, the disease won’t affect your heart
This sort of works the same way. Even if you’re on medication to control your diabetes, that doesn’t mean you’re no longer at risk for heart problems. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, living with diabetes comes with many risk factors for heart disease. Controlling other lifestyle factors, like managing your weight, are also important. Medication alone usually isn’t enough to totally prevent disease.
Next: This is what heart failure actually means.
Myth No. 8: Heart failure happens only when your heart stops
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the difference between a heart attack, cardiac arrest, and heart failure. Medical News Today says a doctor will diagnose heart failure once the heart can no longer pump blood throughout your body properly. That doesn’t mean your heart is necessarily going to stop. When your heart stops, it’s known as cardiac arrest. There are millions of people in the U.S. currently living with heart failure today.
Next: Will eating more nuts and avocados really keep your heart safe?
Myth No. 9: Eating a few key foods will protect your heart
There’s always a new study in the news about another “superfood” that will prevent heart disease. Unfortunately, protecting your heart isn’t as simple as eating more of one specific food. According to Harvard Health, your diet as a whole matters more than adding a few magic foods to your daily menu. A variety of foods, all with different health benefits, will keep your heart healthy over time.
Next: Surgery isn’t a cure.
Myth No. 10: Certain heart surgeries can ‘cure’ your heart disease
Bypass surgery is a common procedure performed on patients with a certain type of heart disease. The Heart and Stroke Foundation says this surgery improves blood flow to the heart, and doctors do it to improve symptoms like chest pain. It does not cure heart disease. Only lifestyle changes and medication can significantly improve your quality of life while living with this condition.
Next: Your genes aren’t a death sentence.
Myth No. 11: If there’s a history of heart disease in your family, you’re doomed
If you have a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, it might seem like there isn’t anything you can do to avoid the same conditions. However, genetics only increase your risk — they’re not a guarantee you’ll have heart problems. Practicing healthy habits that are good for your heart can still make a huge difference. The American Heart Association suggests maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle as you age.
Next: Are men really at higher risk of heart problems?
Myth No. 12: Only men get heart disease
Women don’t have any advantage over men when it comes to heart disease risk. In fact, many women experience more problems following heart attacks and heart surgeries than men do. According to Harvard Health, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. — for both men and women, almost equally. Doctors may need to treat it differently depending on your gender, but risk doesn’t change.
Next: It’s never too late to quit unhealthy habits.
Myth No. 13: Quitting smoking after decades won’t reduce disease risk
Thankfully, this is far from the truth. Regardless of the bad habit, it’s never too early — or too late — to make positive changes in your life. The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute says that no matter how long you’ve been a smoker, or how much you smoke daily, quitting will improve your health. Over time, quitting can increase your risk for multiple diseases, including heart disease.
Next: There’s no evidence that doing this can protect your heart.
Myth No. 14: Taking supplements lowers your heart disease risk
Do you take vitamin C to keep your heart healthy? There isn’t any research to prove that works (though there are other benefits — so you don’t have to stop). According to Mayo Clinic, there’s a lot more to preventing heart disease than taking a multivitamin. Supplements won’t make you healthier or decrease your disease risk if you don’t also take care of yourself in other ways, like eating healthy and exercising.
Next: No matter how fit you are, you can still get heart disease.
Myth No. 15: You can’t get heart disease if you’re physically active
No matter how healthy you are, there’s no way to completely prevent heart disease. Diet and exercise are just a few of many risk factors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s not just drinking, smoking, or diseases like obesity or diabetes. Your genes, and even your race and ethnicity, may also increase your risk. It’s a combination of factors that make you more likely to develop heart disease — and many different habits that can help prevent it.