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Heart to heart: myths about cardiovascular disease
By Amy Bentz Loss
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Heart to heart:  myths about cardiovascular disease

How much do you really know about your heart’s health? It’s easy to be fooled by misconceptions. After all, heart disease only happens to your elderly neighbor or to your fried food-loving uncle, right? Or do you know the real truth – heart disease can affect people of any age, even those who eat right?

Relying on false assumptions can be dangerous to your heart. Cardiovascular disease kills more Americans each year than any other disease. But you can boost your heart smarts by separating fact from fiction. Let’s set the record straight on some common myths.

“I’m too young to worry about heart disease.”

How you live now affects your risk for cardiovascular diseases later in life. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and later lead to clogged arteries. One in three Americans has cardiovascular disease, but not all of them are senior citizens. Even young and middle-aged people can develop heart problems – especially now that obesity, type 2 diabetes and other risk factors are becoming more common at a younger age.

“I’ll know when I’m having a heart attack because I’ll have chest pain.”

Not necessarily. Although it’s common to have chest pain or discomfort, a heart attack may cause subtle symptoms. These include shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, sweating, feeling lightheaded, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck or back. Women, in particular, do not experience “classic” symptoms. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.

“Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.”

Although people with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, you can take steps to dramatically reduce your risk. Create an action plan to keep your heart healthy by tackling these to-dos: get active, control cholesterol, eat better, manage blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and stop smoking.

“I’d know if I had high blood pressure because there would be warning signs.”

High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because you don’t usually know you have it. You may never experience symptoms, so don’t wait for your body to alert you there’s a problem. The way to know if you have high blood pressure is to check your numbers with a simple blood pressure test. Early treatment of high blood pressure is critical because, if left untreated, it can cause heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and other serious health problems.

“I don’t need to have my cholesterol checked until I’m middle-aged.”

The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked every five years starting at age 20. It’s a good idea to start having a cholesterol test even earlier if your family has a history of heart disease. Children in these families can have high cholesterol levels, putting them at increased risk for developing heart disease as adults. You can help yourself and your family by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

“It’s important to remember that even if you have heart disease, your lifestyle is a crucial part of your heart health,” says Dr. Eric Martin, cardiologist and director of prevention at Iowa Heart Center. “Exercising, eating a healthy diet containing fruits and vegetables, limiting processed foods, not smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke can go a long way toward heart disease prevention. It’s never too late to treat heart disease and control risk factors with small lifestyle changes.”

Source: American Heart Association

Learn more.

The cardiovascular experts of Iowa Heart Center provide a seamless system of heart and vascular care to put you on the path to better health. With the latest cardiac technology and a reputation for leading the way with innovative and minimally invasive procedures, Iowa Heart is proud to deliver the region’s most advanced – and comprehensive – approach to heart care. Choosing an Iowa Heart Center provider puts an entire team of top cardiac researchers, surgeons and specialists on your side, every step of the way. To find a heart provider near you, visit

WARNING SIGNS of a heart attack

If you were having a heart attack, would you know it? Would you be able to recognize the symptoms? Knowing the answers can save a life – maybe even your own.

  • Chest discomfort – uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back;
  • Shortness of breath – may often occur with or before chest discomfort;
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body – this may be felt in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach;
  • Sweating, nausea or dizziness;
  • Women, the elderly or diabetics may be more likely to present with symptoms other than chest pain – such as shortness of breath, back pain, or nausea and vomiting.

If you believe you are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. If you are having symptoms and cannot call, have someone call for you or drive you to the hospital right away. NEVER DRIVE YOURSELF!


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