Myths and Facts of Heart Attacks

Just imagine…You’re sitting in a movie theater fighting the nausea and indigestion you’ve been feeling all day.  Then you breakout into a cold sweat and begin having abdominal pain.  Thinking you have food poisoning, your friend rushes you to the hospital, but that is when you find out you’re having a heart attack. You wonder how that’s possible. You didn’t feel a sharp pain in your chest or strange sensations in your arms like you heard others having.

Heart attacks – There’s a ton of information out there, but what exactly is myth and what is fact? Here are 10 common heart attack myths and facts:

Myth #1: Heart attack symptoms are the same for everyone.

Fact: Heart attack symptoms are not the same for everyone.  In fact, men and women may even experience different heart attack symptoms. Common heart attack symptoms include

  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Jaw, neck, arm, shoulder or back pain
  • Shortness of breath

Women are more likely to experience nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, and back and/or jaw pain. 1

Myth #2: Heart attack symptoms are always sudden.

Fact: Heart attack signs and symptoms may appear days or weeks before a heart attack occurs. A common warning sign is experiencing pain or pressure in your chest caused by a decrease of blood reaching the heart. 2

Myth #3: Only older adults have heart attacks.

Fact: Heart attacks are occurring more in younger people, especially among young women. 3

Myth #4: You’ll have a heart attack if someone in your family does.

Fact: Because of your family history, you may be at risk of developing heart disease. However, taking preventative steps can help reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attack. 4

Myth #5: Wait for your symptoms to get worse before calling 9-11.

Fact: Don’t wait. The longer you wait, the greater the damage to your heart.  Waiting can be fatal. 5

Myth #6: Men are more likely to die after a heart attack.

Fact: Compared to men, women are more likely to die from a heart attack. This could be due to being misdiagnosed, waiting longer to seek treatment, and not receiving the appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment. 6,7

Myth #7: A second heart attack will feel the same as the first.

Fact: Repeat heart attacks don’t always feel the same.  Some people who have repeat heart attacks report feeling different symptoms from their first heart attack. 8

Myth #8: All chest pain equals a heart attack.

Fact: Angina is a common type of chest pain that happens when blood isn’t reaching your heart. There are two types of angina, stable and unstable.  Stable angina occurs when performing an activity or when under stress. Unstable angina can occur even while resting. Angina is different from a heart attack as it does not permanently damage the heart muscle. 9

Myth #9: You can’t exercise after having a heart attack.

Fact: Exercise can improve your heart health even after a heart attack. Once your doctor clears you for exercise, you can slowly begin an exercise plan. 10

Myth #10: Everyone knows when they’re having a heart attack.

Fact: It is possible to have a heart attack without knowing. Silent heart attacks have a different intensity than a classic heart attack and occurs with little to no symptoms.11

Dispel the myths. Do your research and speak with your doctor about your heart health concerns.

Sources:

[1]. American Heart Association. (2016). Warning Signs of a Heart Attack. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack  

[2]. Mayo Clinic. (2018). Heart Attack. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20373106

[3]. American Heart Association. (2018). Heart attacks are becoming more common in younger people, especially women.  https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/11/12/heart-attacks-are-becoming-more-common-in-younger-people-especially-women

[4]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Prevent Heart Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/prevention.htm  

[5]. American Heart Association. (2015). Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest: How Are They Different? https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks/heart-attack-or-sudden-cardiac-arrest-how-are-they-different

[6]. Alabas, O. A., Gale, C. P., Hall, M., Rutherford, M. J., Szummer, K., Lawesson, S. S., Jernberg, T. (2017). Sex Differences in Treatments, Relative Survival, and Excess Mortality Following Acute Myocardial Infarction: National Cohort Study Using the SWEDEHEART Registry. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(12). doi:10.1161/jaha.117.007123

[7]. American College of Cardiology. (2015). Women Don’t Get to Hospital Fast Enough During Heart Attack. https://www.acc.org/about-acc/press-releases/2015/03/05/16/33/women-dont-get-to-hospital-fast-enough-during-heart-attack

[8]. American College of Cardiology. (2016). Heart Attack. https://www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/Heart-Attack

[9]. American Heart Association. (2016). About Heart Attacks. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks

[10]. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Exercise and Activity After a Heart Attack. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/departments/heart/patient-education/recovery-care/interventional-procedures/exercise-activity

[11]. American Heart Association Go Red for Women. (n.d.). What is a Silent Heart Attack? https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts/silent-heart-attack-symptoms-risks

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