With this in mind, here’s to setting the record straight on five common myths around CVD:
The media has typically portrayed CVD as man’s disease, clouding the significance of heart disease in women. In fact, all women face the threat of heart disease and - in some cases - the outcome for them is worse than it is for men.1 According to the World Heart Federation, cardiovascular disease represents one-third of all deaths among women, with heart attacks claiming the lives of 3.3 million women every year. A further 3.2 million die from strokes and another 2.1 million succumb to other forms of CVD, such as heart failure and abnormal cardiac rhythms. One of the main reasons why heart attacks in women go undiagnosed is because the symptoms they experience can differ markedly from those experienced by men. For example, women can have a heart attack without the classic picture of chest pain and instead may experience shortness of breath, sweating, and lightheadedness, among other subtle symptoms. As a result, women tend to be underdiagnosed and undertreated with heart attacks in comparison to men. The consequences of this can be deadly, especially when medical assistance is not sought right away.
It is possible to have a heart attack and not even know it. According to one study, 45 percent of heart attacks are “silent heart attacks,” 2 described as such because when they occur, their symptoms lack the intensity of the typical or classic heart attack. Such symptoms may include shortness of breath, nausea, feelings of lightheadedness, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, back, or neck. Furthermore, high blood pressure and high cholesterol - two major risk factors for heart disease - have no physical symptoms. In these cases, a person may only know they have a heart condition when a life-threatening event occurs, such as a heart attack or stroke. It is vital, therefore, that you schedule regular checkups with your doctor even if you do not currently have any cardiovascular conditions. By performing annual screenings with your medical professional, you can monitor your heart health and receive important advice about preventing cardiovascular disease.
Genetic factors can increase your risk for heart disease, but although this predisposes you to the condition, it does not mean that you are predestined to experience it. Ninety percent of heart disease results from harmful lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, smoking, and little or no exercise.3 If heart disease does run in your family, or if you are genetically predisposed to risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, it does mean that preventing it is more critical in order to avoid or delay developing CVD. Your heart health can be managed by scheduling regular check-ups and making lifestyle changes, which include being physically active, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and not smoking.
This is almost always false. Living a sedentary lifestyle is a bad idea for the vast majority of those living with heart problems. Instead, you should consult with your doctor and discuss with them what kind of exercise would be suitable for you. Such activities could include aerobic activities and walking, which are good for your heart. Little or no exercise can exacerbate the overall physical condition of those suffering with heart disease such as, for example, blood clots forming in the legs. Physical activity is essential for strengthening the heart muscle, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels and improving blood flow to the brain. However, you should always speak with your health care provider before beginning an exercise programme to ensure that the activity you would like to participate in is safe for you. This is particularly important if you have previously had a heart attack, have diabetes, or have been experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath.
While the risk of heart disease increases as one gets older, this does not mean that younger people are immune. Cardiovascular disease can affect anyone, irrespective of their age. For example, some heart problems are congenital (present from birth) and others such as cardiomyopathy (a thickening of the heart muscle that affects the heart’s pumping ability) can occur to anyone, no matter how old they are. One study conducted by the American Heart Association revealed that heart attacks are becoming increasingly common in younger people, especially women.4 Added to this, how you live in younger years can affect your risk of CVD later in life. Plaque can develop in your arteries from as early as childhood and adolescence, which can ultimately lead to clogged arteries further down the line. This conveys the importance of realising that the choices you make now will affect your heart health in later years.
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