Myths and Misconceptions

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024

Cardiovascular disease, also called heart disease, is a serious health condition. In fact, it is the number 1 cause of death worldwide. Despite its prevalence, there are many myths and misconceptions about the condition. Here are some common myths about heart disease and the facts that bust them.1

Myth: Only older adults are at risk for heart disease

A big misconception is that heart disease affects only the elderly, but this is not true. Heart disease can strike at any age. While the risk for heart disease does increase with age, there are plenty of other risk factors that can lead to heart issues in younger people. These include things like:2,3

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Family history
  • Comorbidities like diabetes and high cholesterol
  • Misuse of alcohol and recreational drugs

For this reason, people of all ages should consider adopting heart-healthy habits and getting regular checkups.2,3

Myth: Men are more at risk of heart disease than women

Another myth is that heart disease mostly affects men. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, not just in the United States but around the world.2,3

However, women may experience different symptoms than men and often go undiagnosed or undertreated. Women need to be aware of their risk factors, including family history and experiencing menopause. Menopause increases a woman’s risk of heart disease because of the drop in estrogen in the body.2,3

If you are a woman, seek medical attention if you experience symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, unexplained nausea, or fatigue.2,3

Myth: Only overweight people get heart disease

While being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for heart disease, being thin does not mean you are off the hook. People of all body types and those who regularly exercise can develop cardiovascular issues. Genetics, cholesterol levels, and other lifestyle factors play a crucial role.2-4

Myth: Heart disease is inevitable if it runs in the family

A family history of heart disease can increase your risk. But it does not mean you are destined to develop the condition. Knowing your family history can empower you to take preventative measures.2,3

Lifestyle choices play a huge role in heart health, and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle reduces your risk for heart disease. This includes eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding tobacco.2,3

Myth: Heart disease affects only the heart

Heart disease does not affect just the heart. It can impact other organs and parts of the body as well. For instance, it increases the risk of stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, and peripheral artery disease.5

Myth: Chest pain is always a sign of heart disease

Chest pain or discomfort is a common symptom of a heart attack. But not everyone with heart disease experiences this tell-tale sign. For example, women often have atypical symptoms like nausea, fatigue, or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, or jaw. Men may have more typical symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath.2,3

Symptoms of heart disease can vary widely. Ignoring subtler symptoms could delay crucial treatment. Pay attention to your body. If you notice any unusual signs, get medical help right away.2,3

Myth: Medicine alone can cure heart disease

Medicine is a key aspect of managing heart disease, but it is not the only thing that can help heart disease. Lifestyle changes are also very important.2-4

Medicine for heart disease works best when it is combined with lifestyle changes like:2-4

Myth: There is no such thing as “good” cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. It contributes to the buildup of plaque in arteries. Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.1,6

However, there is another type of cholesterol as well. HDL cholesterol is known as "good" cholesterol. It helps move cholesterol to the liver, where it is processed and flushed from the body. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol may reduce your risk of heart disease.1,6

Myth: All fat is bad for your health

The myth that all fats are bad stems from a misunderstanding of their impact on cholesterol, as not all types of fat are bad for you.1

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, can add to a heart-healthy diet. These fats not only help lower LDL cholesterol levels but also provide essential nutrients that support overall heart health.1,6

Saturated fats and trans fats are the true culprits when it comes to negatively impacting cholesterol. Trans fats, found in processed and fried foods, can raise LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL cholesterol, posing a double threat to heart health.1,6

The bottom line: Eat a variety of healthy fats, limit saturated fats, and cut out trans fats if you can.1,6

Always do your research

Not everything you hear or read is based on facts. Fact-check what you hear or read against other reputable sources. When in doubt, ask your doctor or healthcare team about your risk for heart disease.

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