Heart and circulatory system

10 Myths About Heart Disease


By Tomás Vicente

Key Points

  • Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death worldwide.
  • This term is used to refer to a group of heart conditions: peripheral artery disease, congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, rheumatic heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease.
  • Heart disease is common, but it can be prevented by managing its risk factors: poor diet, stress, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking.

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death worldwide.

Although this condition is common, health authorities emphasize that it can be prevented by managing its risk factors, such as smoking, poor or unhealthy diet, obesity, stress, and sedentary lifestyle. Early detection and treatment are also key. We will go over the main myths about heart disease below.

Myth 1: Heart disease is just one condition

No. Although its name may cause confusion, heart disease (cardiovascular disease) is a group of heart and blood vessel disorders that includes:

  • Peripheral artery disease: Diseases of the blood vessels that supply the arms and legs.
  • Congenital heart disease: Heart defects present since birth.
  • Coronary artery disease: Diseases of the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle.
  • Rheumatic heart disease: Damage of the heart muscle and valves by rheumatic fever, a disease caused by bacteria known as streptococci.
  • Cerebrovascular disease: Diseases of the blood vessels that supply the brain.
  • Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism: Blood clots (thrombi) in the veins of the legs that can break off (emboli) and get stuck in the vessels of the heart and lungs.

Myth 2: Heart attack and cardiac arrest are the same thing

Although they are often used as synonyms, heart attack and cardiac arrest are not the same thing. A heart attack is a circulation problem that occurs when the coronary artery, which transports oxygenated blood to the heart muscles, is blocked.

In contrast, cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping blood throughout the body effectively. Cardiac arrest is usually caused by heart attack.

Another item to note is that during a heart attack, people are likely conscious, whereas during cardiac arrest, they are almost always unconscious.

Myth 3: Vitamins prevent heart disease

This is not true. There is no scientific evidence that shows that supplementation with multivitamins and minerals can improve cardiovascular outcomes in the general population.
Vitamin supplements are used to make up for nutritional deficiencies that you may have at times in your life and should only be used under the guidance and supervision of a health care professional.

Remember, supplements cannot be used to replace a healthy diet or regular exercise, both of which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Myth 4: Heart disease only affects older adults

This belief is widespread, as heart disease is more likely to affect people over 65. However, between 5 and 10% of heart attacks are thought to occur in people under 45.

It’s also important to remember that the way we live as children, teenagers, young adults, and adults lays the foundations for heart health as we get older.

Myth 5: Heart disease only affects men

As in myth 4, this myth may be caused by the fact that men tend to develop heart disease at an earlier age than women, and have a greater risk of coronary artery disease.

However, women are also at risk of developing heart disease, and they even have a greater risk of stroke. What’s more, researchers say that women have higher mortality and poorer prognoses after acute cardiovascular events.

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Myth 6: If I have a history of heart disease, I can’t prevent it

The main risk factors for developing heart disease are family history, along with age and sex.

But having family members with this condition doesn’t mean that it is inevitable that it will affect you too. There are other risk factors that you can modify to reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, stress, obesity, and poor diet.

Myth 7: If I’ve smoked for years, it doesn’t make sense to stop smoking now

This is another very dangerous myth because smoking is one of the main causes of heart disease. The fact is that as soon as you stop this habit, you will see benefits, such as improved breathing and higher energy levels.

Health authorities guarantee that it doesn’t matter what age or time you stop smoking—quitting will improve your health and, among other benefits, reduce your risk of heart disease.

Myth 8: If I have heart problems, I should avoid all types of fat

It is true that saturated fats, which are commonly found in lard, cold cuts, and other ultra-processed foods, increase the risk of developing heart disease.

But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat any fat. In fact, fats are an essential part of your diet. What you should do is choose healthy fats, such as monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can be found in foods like fish, nuts, seeds, oils (like olive and canola oil), and avocados.

Myth 9: If I take medications for cholesterol or blood pressure, I can eat however I like

Many people might think that taking medication to control cholesterol or blood pressure levels eliminates the risks of neglecting your diet.

This is not true. An unhealthy diet can be harmful to your health in ways besides high blood pressure and high cholesterol. For example, it can increase the risk of obesity or diabetes, which are risk factors for heart disease.

Myth 10: If I have heart disease, I can’t exercise

Experts say that contrary to popular belief, exercise is very beneficial for people with heart disease. It helps strengthen the heart muscle and improve blood flow throughout the body.

According to available evidence, the chance of exercise triggering a heart attack or cardiac arrest is extremely low. However, people who are sedentary should consult a health care professional, who can review the situation and recommend the best activities for exercise.

Sources: American Heart Association; National Library of Medicine; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Mayo Clinic; World Health Organization (WHO).