Did you know that heart attacks are the number one cause of death in America? It’s so common that it may seem like everyone has had one or knows someone who has. But what exactly is a heart attack, and why are they so serious? By learning about the real facts about heart attacks, including their causes and symptoms, you can help protect yourself from getting one and save lives by learning how to treat others who have had one. Here are seven myths about heart attacks that could kill you if they stop you from seeking help when you need it most.
Myth #1: My pain can’t be a heart attack
Wrong. A heart attack can feel like an elephant sitting on your chest and a burning sensation in your back. It’s very real and can hit you out of nowhere. If you think you are having a heart attack, don’t delay—call 911 immediately or ask someone to take you to a hospital emergency room. Cardiac pain can start up to 20 minutes before a heart attack, so if you feel chest discomfort or other symptoms, it’s important not to wait; seek immediate medical attention.
Myth #2: It Only Happens to Older People
You might think of heart attacks as an older person’s disease, but that’s not true. More than 30 percent of people who have a heart attack are under 65. The bad news is that you can’t tell by looking at someone if they’re susceptible to a heart attack; it doesn’t matter how old they are or whether they smoke. Even healthy young athletes can and do suffer heart attacks. If you experience any symptoms, get help right away.
Myth #3: I have too much stress in my life.
While stress can worsen heart disease, that doesn’t mean you have to remove all sources of stress from your life. There is no way to do that. Many stressful situations in our lives are unavoidable: divorce, death of a loved one, financial problems and more. What you can do to reduce your stress levels is take control of your health by eating healthy food and exercising regularly, so you are better able to handle difficult situations when they arise.
Myth #4: If I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs I can’t get a heart attack.
Smoking, drinking, and drug use are all independently associated with heart attacks. But it’s not just whether you smoke or don’t smoke that affects your risk of heart attack—it’s how many cigarettes you smoke a day, how much alcohol you drink in one sitting and if it’s a specific type of alcohol that contributes to your chance of a heart attack.
Myth #5: There is nothing wrong with me.
If you feel any chest pain, no matter how mild, get yourself to a hospital. If you’re over 40 years old and have more than 1 risk factor (family history of heart disease, high blood pressure etc.), call your doctor immediately if you are feeling anything other than very minor pain in your chest. Even if it is just mild discomfort – go see a physician as soon as possible. Treating these symptoms can save your life!
Myth #6: If it isn’t broken, why fix it?
One of your major risk factors for heart disease is bad cholesterol. If you have high levels, then even if you don’t have any symptoms, you should still be treated to prevent future problems. In fact, one of your first symptoms might be a heart attack. The best way to avoid heart attacks is to prevent them in the first place by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes getting regular checkups with your doctor and following his recommendations for treatment.
Myth #7: If someone else had a heart attack, then it probably won’t happen to me.
The truth is, heart attacks can and do happen to otherwise healthy people. Regardless of age or lifestyle, anything that increases your risk for a heart attack does so by a factor equal to your own increase in risk. So if you’re twice as likely to have a heart attack, then someone else is 2x as likely. And conversely, if you reduce your risk by half, then so does that other person.