HEART HEALTH: what everyone should know
Outdated assumptions and “Dr Google” have led to confusion around heart health. Sharon Hunt looks at common myths about cardiovascular disease, and highlights the symptoms that require immediate action.
Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. What catches so many people out is a preconceived notion that only a certain “type” of person is affected by heart health issues. However, when you think about it, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t personally know someone who is either managing their blood pressure or has high cholesterol – or has had a cardiac incident. But that’s the point – there is no type.
It’s one of many commonly held heart-health myths around. Here, we explore some other common beliefs.
More than 170,000 people in
New Zealand are currently living with heart disease. It is responsible for more than 6000 deaths every year – that’s equivalent to the loss of 16 to 18 Kiwi lives a day.
Since so many of us will be touched by heart disease at some point, we all owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be up to speed on the symptoms of a heart attack. Knowing the symptoms – even the most unlikely ones – is a potential lifesaver.
And our lifestyle choices can make all the difference.
MYTH: I’M TOO YOUNG TO WORRY ABOUT HEART DISEASE.
“Risk factors begin accumulating as early as our 20s, so we need to be observant of our heart health at every stage of our lives,” advises Heart Foundation National Spokesperson on Women’s Health, Julie Anne Mitchell. It’s never too early to eat well and exercise regularly to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and other heart disease risk factors.
MYTH: I’LL FEEL IT IF I HAVE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE OR HIGH CHOLESTEROL.
Heart surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp explains the only way to “catch” heart disease symptoms is to see your doctor. “Your GP can do a heart health check,” Dr Stamp explains. “That way you’ll know your cholesterol and blood pressure and be checked for conditions like diabetes.”
MYTH: NON-PRESCRIPTION SUPPLEMENTS WON’T REDUCE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE.
There’s compelling research into the potential benefits supplements can offer in reducing high blood pressure. “For instance, garlic and potassium can have blood pressure-lowering properties,” notes Julie Anne. Consult with your doctor before taking supplements – particularly if you’re already on any heart medication.
MYTH: EVERYONE EXPERIENCES A HEART ATTACK THE SAME WAY.
Heart attacks are not one-size-fits-all and the combination of symptoms differs. “Men are more likely to have pain in the middle of the chest that travels to the arm or jaw,” Dr Stamp says. “Whereas women have symptoms like tiredness, nausea, stomach pain or back pain.”
MYTH: YOU SHOULD EAT AS LITTLE FATS AS POSSIBLE.
Fats aren’t the enemy – it’s about choosing the right kinds and omitting others. “Avoid saturated fat and up your intake of good fats, like those from avocado and fish,” advises Dr Stamp.
MYTH: HEART DISEASE RUNS IN MY FAMILY, SO THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO.
A genetic predisposition certainly places you at a higher risk – but it doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. “Lifestyle risk factors can be managed by not smoking, having a healthy diet, keeping your weight under control and being physically active,” explains Julie Anne.
MYTH: YOU SHOULD TAKE IT EASY IF YOU HAVE HEART DISEASE.
Heart attack survivors are encouraged to exercise their heart to reduce the risk of reoccurrence. Speak to your doctor about the kind of activity that will be right for you.