Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women in the United States. It is an equal-opportunity killer that claims approximately 1 million lives each year.
February is American Heart Month, and there are some misconceptions about heart disease that need to be busted.
Myth: If I consume dark chocolate, I can reduce my risk of heart disease.
Fact: unfortunately for chocolate lovers, eating dark chocolate will not reduce your risk of heart disease. Dark chocolate contains an ingredient called resveratrol, which was once thought to help lower your risk of heart disease. However, according to the American Heart Association, researchers found resveratrol had no significant effect on longevity, inflammation, cardiovascular disease or cancer.
Instead of loading up on chocolate to protect the heart, the American Heart Association recommends eating a well-balanced diet.
Myth: I can take an aspirin a day to lower my risk of heart disease.
Fact: Only those who have had a heart attack or are at a high risk of having one should take aspirin daily – and only if directed by a medical provider. Aspirin is a blood-thinning agent that is beneficial to those who have survived a heart attack but can be dangerous to those who are at a lower risk of one. Side effects can include bleeding in the stomach, upset stomach and heartburn.
A healthy, low-risk individual should not take aspirin daily unless directed by their primary care provider.
Myth: Heart disease runs in my family. There is nothing I can do about it.
Fact: “There are a number of things you can do to help lower your risk of heart disease,” said Lynn Bridge, nurse practitioner at Flint Hills Community Health Center, “... such as eating a balanced diet, physical activity, discontinuing tobacco use, and limiting alcohol intake.”
It is important to get regular checkups from your primary care provider to discuss different ways to keep the heart healthy.
Myth: I am fit and exercise regularly, so I will not be affected by heart disease.
Fact: Heart disease can affect anyone. Factors like smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and excessive alcohol use can counteract the physical activity.
According to the American Heart Association, getting cholesterol levels checked at age 20 or earlier, depending on family history, is a way to help stay ahead of heart disease. Physical activity is a great way to keep the heart healthy, but the effects of smoking and eating foods that contain too much cholesterol can cancel out the physical activity.
Myth: Heart disease is only for the elderly.
Fact: Heart disease affects men and women of all ages, although it is more predominant in women than men. While the risk of a heart attack increases with age, with overeating and a sedentary lifestyle, it is not limited to just older people. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, 8 million women in the United States are living with heart disease; 35,000 are under the age of 65.
Bridge said an increase in physical activity, a balanced diet, stress management, and limiting tobacco and alcohol use can help individuals of all ages lower the risk of heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs when the blood flow bringing oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This is a result of plaque buildup in the coronary arteries comprising of fats, cholesterol, and other substances. This plaque buildup causes the blood flow to the heart to slow down or stop.
When the blood flow is completely blocked off or hindered, the heart becomes deprived of oxygen and nutrients, which results in the damage that causes a heart attack.
Symptoms of a heart attack include excessive fatigue, palpitations, difficult or labored breathing, chest pain or discomfort from increased activity. If you are experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chances of survival are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly.
Knowing the facts about heart disease can help better equip you to prevent it, Bridge said. However, you should always consult your primary care provider before making a change to your health regimen.
—Flint Hills Community Health Center offers medical, dental and behavioral health services on a sliding-fee scale, and serves residents with and without insurance. The health center works to promote the health and well-being of the entire community and provides health department services through a contract with Lyon County.