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8 heart disease myths you shouldn't fall for

A woman stretches her arms while looking out over a valley.

Feb. 14, 2020—Through no fault of their own, a lot of people get the wrong idea when it comes to heart disease. All too often, myths and misconceptions abound. Trouble is, misunderstandings can be downright dangerous when they get in the way of the heart-healthy truth.

See if you've ever heard (or believed) any of these myths—and then learn the facts, courtesy of the American Heart Association and other medical experts.

1. Younger people don't need to worry about heart disease. Yes, heart disease is more likely as we get older, but it can affect people of all ages. What's more, your risk for heart disease can start to climb in childhood. So it's never too soon to adopt a prevention strategy that includes regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet.

2. It's a man's disease. Actually, heart disease kills roughly as many women as men. Among women, heart disease accounts for about 1 in 5 deaths annually, which makes it an even bigger threat than breast cancer. It's the leading killer of women in this country.

3. If you're having a heart attack, you'll feel chest pain. While chest pain or discomfort is a common heart attack symptom, it's not the only one. Some people experience less-obvious symptoms, like shortness of breath; light-headedness; or pain in the arm, jaw, neck or back.

4. If you stay in shape, you won't get heart disease. Exercising does help protect against heart disease. But you can be fit and still have other risk factors, like high cholesterol, a history of smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes. Talk with your doctor about your overall risk.

5. A heart attack is the same as cardiac arrest. These are two different conditions, but they're both emergencies. Here's the difference:

  • A heart attack happens when blood circulation to the heart suddenly becomes blocked. But the heart usually keeps beating. If you notice heart attack symptoms, call 911.
  • Cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops beating because of a problem with the electrical signals that control its rhythm. A person in cardiac arrest passes out and has no pulse. If you suspect cardiac arrest, call 911, and use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if available. Then follow up with CPR until an ambulance arrives. If multiple people can help, one person should administer CPR while another calls 911 and locates the AED.

6. Heart disease runs in my family, so it's just a matter of time. Having a family history of heart disease can make you more likely to develop the disease. But you can counter that extra risk. For example, you can choose to exercise regularly, avoid smoking, maintain a healthy weight and have a heart-healthy diet. These and other steps can go a long way toward lowering your overall risk.

7. People with heart disease shouldn't exercise. Exercise is good for everyone, including people with heart disease—even those who've had a heart attack. In fact, if you're a heart attack survivor, a doctor-approved exercise program may even help you live longer.

8. I feel fine, so my heart must be healthy. You can have heart disease—or its risk factors—and not even know it. That's why it's a good idea to talk with your doctor about your risk. Your doctor can check your blood pressure and tell you if it's time for other tests, like cholesterol or diabetes screenings. Don't let a major heart problem be your first symptom.

Discover more tips for heart-healthy living in our Heart Health topic center.

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