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Heart Health Center

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6 Risky Heart Health Myths

Believing these myths could put your cardiovascular health in danger.
By Tammy Worth
WebMD Feature

There are a lot of assumptions we make about our hearts. And for each myth, there is often some truth upon which it is founded.

Take heart attacks, for instance.

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Most people imagine they would know when they are having a heart attack. It would be difficult not to recognize symptoms of "the big one" – sweating, soreness in the left arm, and sudden, disabling chest pain.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes the signs are much more subtle or mimic other conditions.

"I have heard of instances when a cardiologist was having a heart attack and thought they were having indigestion," says Elizabeth Jackson, MD, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Michigan Health Systems.

As with any health issue, knowledge is power. And when your heart is on the line, you need all the power you can get.

So here are six major heart health myths and the reality behind them.

Heart Myth #1: I would know if I had high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Not unless you get a blood pressure or cholesterol test. That's the only way to know if you have high blood pressure (hypertension) or unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Risk factors are usually silent, meaning they have no obvious associated symptoms.

"Hypertension is the silent killer, you are not going to know you have it," says Jennifer Mieres, MD, a cardiologist at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. "When high blood pressure presents as a symptom like headaches or renal failure, it is more difficult to control at that stage. Early treatment is essential to preventing end organ damage, which is often irreversible."

The same goes for high cholesterol. A person can be thin and in good shape and still have high cholesterol.

"These can all silently be doing damage even though we may think we are in the best of health," Mieres says.

Heart Myth #2: Heart disease treats men and women the same.

Heart disease can affect the sexes very differently.

This begins with symptoms. Although many people experience the classic "elephant sitting on the chest" sensation when they have a heart attack, there are also less traditional symptoms, and they are more common among women.

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