Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. In 2021, about 695,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease — which is 1 in every 5 deaths.
Given the prevalence and severity of heart disease, you might think that you know the basics. Well, perhaps you need to think again!
You could be among the alarming 62 percent of Americans who failed a “Heart Attack IQ” quiz that asked basic questions about things like risk factors and prevention. And a separate survey by the Cleveland Clinic found that while 68 percent of Americans are worried about dying from heart disease, just 18 percent know their body mass index (BMI) and only 38 percent know their blood pressure. Both excess BMI and high blood pressure (hypertension) are risk factors for developing heart disease.
“Heart disease causes 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States, so it’s troubling that so few Americans know the basics about their own heart health,” commented Dr. Steve Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Americans could take better control of their health by simply educating themselves about what factors are most important to their health.”
To replace fiction with facts, below we debunk 10 myths about heart disease:
MYTH: You would know if you had high blood pressure, because you would notice the warning signs.
FACT: High blood pressure is referred to as “the silent killer,” because many people who have it do not experience symptoms. Some people only learn about their condition — which may have persisted for several years or decades — after a serious or catastrophic medical event, such as a heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage.
MYTH: You can lower your risk of heart disease by taking multivitamin and mineral supplements.
FACT: A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical literature has found that taking multivitamin and mineral supplements does not prevent heart attacks, strokes or cardiovascular death. The American Heart Association does not recommend using multivitamin or mineral supplements to prevent cardiovascular diseases.
MYTH: Heart disease is the same for women and men.
FACT: While the frequency of cardiovascular disease tends to be lower in women before menopause than in men, the frequency dramatically increases after menopause when it accounts for approximately one out of every three deaths in women. In addition, while the classical symptoms of cardiovascular disease such as chest pains apply to both men and women, women are much more likely to experience atypical symptoms such as indigestion, shortness of breath, and back pain; sometimes even in the absence of obvious chest discomfort. In addition, a study found that about 5 percent of women are likely to be misdiagnosed when they go to the hospital with a heart attack, compared to 3 percent of men.
MYTH: As long as you eat well and regularly exercise, then you won’t get heart disease.
FACT: Eating nutritious foods and getting sufficient exercise are valuable, both for heart health and overall wellness. However, there are many other factors that can increase the risk of heart disease, including genetics (family history), age, and underlying health conditions.
MYTH: You don’t need to start checking your cholesterol until you reach middle-age.
FACT: Too much cholesterol in the body is a risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults 20 or older have their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors checked every 4 to 6 years, as long as their risk remains low. After age 40, the frequency should be determined by a health care professional based on the prevailing risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
MYTH: Heart disease is only something that older people need to be concerned about.
FACT: Heart disease doesn’t happen just to older people. More often, it is occurring in younger adults, partly because the conditions that lead to heart disease are happening at younger ages. Commented University Hospitals cardiologist Raju Modi, MD: “The heart disease trend that we’re seeing over the last two decades is in the very young, defined as people who are under the age of 40. From 2006 to 2016, we’ve seen about a 2 percent per year increase in very young people with heart attacks.”
MYTH: If nobody in your family has heart disease, then you are not going to get it.
FACT: Research has found that siblings of people with heart disease have about a 40% risk increase, and children of parents with premature heart disease a 60% to 75% risk increase. Commented James Stein, MD, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Health's Preventive Cardiology Program: "Risk factors like unhealthy eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle predict heart disease. The presence of any risk factors increases your risk of developing heart disease. But not having a family history does not protect you."
MYTH: There is no link between diabetes and developing heart disease.
FACT: A person with diabetes is twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke than someone who doesn't have diabetes, and at a younger age. The longer that someone has diabetes, the more they are to have heart disease.
MYTH: If you have smoked for years, then there is no point in quitting since the damage cannot be reversed.
FACT: Regardless of how long or how much you have smoked, your risk of developing heart disease from smoking starts to reduce soon after you quit. And for many people, the risk keeps getting lower over time. Stated Johns Hopkins Medicine cardiologist Parag Joshi, MD: “Among the behaviors within your control, not smoking is by far the most critical single action you can take to prevent heart disease, heart attack and stroke.”
MYTH: The only way to regularly check your blood pressure is by going to a self-serve kiosk at a drug store or supermarket, or by seeing your physician.
FACT: You can easily and accurately check your blood pressure levels by using a digital therapeutics app on your smartphone that is linked via Bluetooth to an FDA-approved cuff, which slips over your bicep (similar to what you experience at your doctor’s office). In addition to monitoring your blood pressure levels over time and (if you choose) sharing the data with your doctor, you also get personalized coaching to boost your heart health, such as tips for healthier eating and reminders to walk a little more. Small, enjoyable lifestyle changes can have a massive impact. For example, a recent study of more than 6,000 people found that an average increase of just 34 minutes of walking per week — or about five minutes per day — was associated with an 8.7mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure.
Hello Heart is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. You should always consult with your doctor about your individual care.
1. Gazit T, Gutman M, Beatty AL. Assessment of Hypertension Control Among Adults Participating in a Mobile Technology Blood Pressure Self-management Program. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2127008, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.27008. Accessed October 19, 2022. (Some study authors are employed by Hello Heart. Because of the observational nature of the study, causal conclusions cannot be made. See additional important study limitations in the publication. This study showed that 108 participants with baseline blood pressure over 140/90 who had been enrolled in the program for 3 years and had application activity during weeks 148-163 were able to reduce their blood pressure by 21 mmHg using the Hello Heart program.) (2) Livongo Health, Inc. Form S-1 Registration Statement. https:/www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1639225/000119312519185159/d731249ds1.htm. Published June 28, 2019. Accessed October 19, 2022. (In a pilot study that lasted six weeks, individuals starting with a blood pressure of greater than 140/90 mmHg, on average, had a 10 mmHG reduction.) NOTE: This comparison is not based on a head-to-head study, and the difference in results may be due in part to different study protocols.
2. Validation Institute. 2021 Validation Report (Valid Through October 2022). https://validationinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Hello_Heart-Savings-2021- Final.pdf. Published October 2021. Accessed October 19, 2022. (This analysis was commissioned by Hello Heart, which provided a summary report of self-fundedemployer client medical claims data for 203 Hello Heart users and 200 non-users from 2017-2020. Findings have not been subjected to peer review.)