Dispelling heart disease myths

Having trouble distinguishing fact from fiction when it comes to heart disease? You're not alone. Nikhil Iyengar, MD, an HonorHealth cardiologist, debunks the top 10 myths he hears from patients in the article below, so you can more clearly navigate your heart health.

1. Myth: Heart disease medications do more harm than good.

Fact: While no one wants to take medications, they can be incredibly helpful in preventing, treating and managing heart disease.

When a doctor puts you on medication, it's because research has shown it's effective. Before medications become treatment options, they've been rigorously studied, and the results have shown that those who took the medication had better health outcomes than those who did not.

2. Myth: A lifetime of good health means I won't get heart disease.

Fact: Heart disease can build slowly, or it can develop suddenly. Past health status does not necessarily indicate future health.

The truth is that everyone is healthy until they get sick. Life is neither fair nor rational. The reasons why some people develop disease and others don't aren't always explainable. It's important to realize that our health is always changing — sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

3. Myth: I don’t have a family history of heart disease so it won’t affect me.

Fact: Diseases develop for a variety of reasons. Some are related to genetics and others are tied to environment and lifestyle factors. Not having a family history of heart disease is not a guarantee that you won't get it.

Genes and environment can play out differently in succeeding generations. For instance, you may have inherited genes from a great uncle whom no one talks about that could actually increase your risk of heart disease. In short, don't assume that you're safe simply because the disease hasn't played a prominent role in your family's health history.

4. Myth: I don't need medication since I eat a healthy diet.

Fact: What's considered a healthy diet for one person may not be for the next. The availability of medication that's effective in lowering cholesterol has spurred the Food and Drug Administration to be more lenient when it comes to dietary restrictions on cholesterol.

Current dietary guidelines have a greater allowance for cholesterol simply because of the availability of drugs that have proven to be more effective in lowering cholesterol than modest changes to one's diet. However, this does not mean we have permission to eat cheeseburgers at every meal.

5. Myth: Taking medication to lower blood pressure leads to feeling sluggish.

Fact: Failure to manage high blood pressure can have life-threatening consequences.

Operating with high blood pressure is like running your car at 6,000rpm. It may feel great when you're doing it, but it's very bad for the long-term health of your vehicle. The same can be said for your body when you're living with high blood pressure. You may feel a bit tired when your blood pressure is being lowered, but you'll reap a lot of health benefits.

6. Myth: Quitting smoking means it no longer has an impact on your risk of heart disease.

Fact: Smoking does irreversible damage to your organs. While stopping tobacco use lowers your risk, your past habits can still have negative implications on your future health.

Acute heart disease risk seems to drop when a person stops smoking, but the chronic changes related to smoking likely continue to affect your body and the health of your organs and internal systems.

7. Myth: Red wine is good for the heart and vascular system.

Fact: While it was once widely believed that red wine offered some health benefits for the heart and vascular system, recent studies show no significant benefit.

The low-level drinking that was once endorsed by heart societies came on the heels of studies that showed that people who drank in low volumes were happier, wealthier and had fewer Type A personality traits than people who drank in greater or lower quantities. Randomized studies on the subject show no actual health benefit from drinking red wine.

8. Myth: Women have a greater risk of developing breast cancer than heart disease.

Fact: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death among women in the U.S.

A woman's cycling hormones provide protective health benefits, but once a woman goes through menopause her risk of heart disease becomes higher than a man's. This holds true until a woman enters her 70s, when women's and men's risk of heart events equalize. The reason for this shift is likely due to the fact that men at high risk of heart disease experience heart events such as heart attack at lower ages.

9. Myth: A procedures to fix a heart problem means no further treatment is needed.

Fact: Procedures such as stent placement or bypass surgery are done to correct an acute manifestation of a chronic condition. Preventing future acute episodes requires a mix of exercise, diet and medication.

Allowing patients to have more cardiac events is more financially beneficial for doctors, but our primary goal as physicians is to help patients live longer, healthier lives.

10. Myth: Firsthand experiences from friends, family and/or the internet offer reliable information on managing heart disease.

Fact: Despite having a wealth of information about heart disease prevention and treatment at your fingertips, nothing is more beneficial than input from a physician who knows you and is invested in helping you live a longer, healthier life.

Medicine is anything but stagnant. Thoughts and processes related to heart disease medication, treatment options and more are constantly changing. Similarly, technology used to detect, diagnose and treat heart disease is always shifting. Work with a trusted health professional to make sure the information you're getting is current and that your care plan is being guided by an expert in the field.

Care that’s made with you in mind

If you need heart care, we’ve got you covered. Whether you live in the metro Phoenix area or you’re looking to travel to HonorHealth from another part of the state or country, you’ll receive in-depth care designed with your convenience in mind.

Get started: Request an appointment with a heart and vascular specialist: 623-580-5800

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