Reviewed by Veena Angle, MBBS, MD and Physician Lim Sock Ling
Debunking 7 Common Myths About Cardiovascular Disease
Published | 7 min read
Treating cardiovascular disease based on misinformation can have adverse outcomes. Let's break down popular myths about heart problems.
Cardiovascular disease is responsible for the majority of the top 5 causes of death in Malaysia, reaching over 16,000 or 15 per cent of total deaths, and the top 10 causes of death globally. Hence, it’s crucial to take the necessary steps to boost the health of your cardiovascular system. This includes your heart and a system of blood vessels called arteries, veins, and capillaries.
However, acting based on misconstrued information or false assumptions can be detrimental to your health. Here are 7 myths about cardiovascular diseases, debunked.
Myth #1: Cardiovascular Disease Only Affects Men
The possibility of heart disease affecting women is often ignored because it only affects men. Younger women are at a lesser risk of heart disease than men due to oestrogen hormones’ heart-protective effect. Yet, surveys have shown that the prevalence of heart attacks have increased significantly in women aged 35 to 54 years over the past two decades.
After menopause, a reduction in the oestrogen hormone increases the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Furthermore, weight gain during menopause can cause a woman to develop type 2 diabetes, a risk factor for cardiovascular complications.
Like weight gain, menopausal women are also at a higher risk of hypertension which can trigger chest pain and palpitations. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs, Mongolian Milk vetch (huang qi), Coptis Rhizome (huang lian), cattail pollen (pu huang), plantago seed (ze xie), and Wormwood capillary (yin chen) help in reducing systolic blood pressure when used together. This would in turn prevent cardiovascular disease.
You can consider consuming herbal teas prepared with chrysanthemum or prunella spike (xia ku cao). They help calm liver yang (heat), another common cause of hypertension. It is worth noting that both ingredients may not be suitable for people who have a poor digestive system. This can lead to loose stools due to their cooling nature. People on blood-thinning medication should seek professional advice before consuming these remedies, whereas pregnant women should avoid them entirely.
Myth #2: Cardiovascular Disease Does Not Affect Young People
Contrary to popular belief, atherosclerosis — plaque in the artery walls — starts to develop in childhood and causes heart disease later. Medical professionals increasingly detect heart disease due to atherosclerosis in young adults. At the same time, young people are also prone to other types of heart disease, such as inborn abnormalities of blood vessels to the heart, inflammation of the heart muscle and structural abnormalities of the heart muscle and valves.
The main causes of cardiovascular disease are several risk factors, including hypertension, cigarette smoking, overweight or obesity, a sedentary lifestyle or an unhealthy diet. It can also be caused by hyperlipidemia, which refers to different genetic disorders that cause a high amount of fats, cholesterol and triglycerides to circulate in the blood.
Interestingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that type 2 diabetes in children has risen in recent years. This attributes to children being more exposed to foods that are rich in saturated fats. In the same way, this exposure can also lead to obesity, which increases a child’s risk of heart disease.
Myth #3: Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack are the Same Disease
This is another popular myth about cardiovascular disease. To set the record straight, it is important to note that cardiac arrest occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and causes it to beat abnormally. This prevents blood from circulating to organs like the brain and lungs, leading to unconsciousness within seconds.
On the other hand, a heart attack is damage to the heart muscle due to inadequate blood flow. Often, this results from a blockage in one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. When a plaque present in the artery wall ruptures, it forms a clot that blocks the narrow lumen of the artery.
To lower your risk of a cardiac arrest or heart attack, you may consume a nutritious beverage that contains an assortment of grains and nuts. Similarly, this beverage is a dense source of high-quality fibre and protein. It is beneficial for promoting bowel movement and preventing osteoporosis.
Myth #4: A “Minor” Heart Attack is Not Life-Threatening
The severity of a heart attack can be diagnosed as either a STEMI or NSTEMI. A STEMI refers to a complete obstruction of one of the main arteries. On the other hand, an NSTEMI refers to a partial blockage of one or more arteries.
Although the treatment for a STEMI and NSTEMI may differ, it is essential to note that both types of heart attack have demonstrated similar long-term outcomes, including a higher risk of a second heart attack or a stroke.
Myth #5: You Cannot Lower Your Risk of Cardiovascular by Quitting Smoking
It is a given that cigarette smoking is one of the significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Still, the notion that quitting smoking after many years will not lower your risk of heart conditions is false.
In truth, people who quit the habit can see positive effects almost immediately. Within a year, a former smoker’s risk of a heart attack will drop dramatically. People who have previously suffered a heart attack can also cut their risk of having another stroke. After five years, a former smoker’s risk of suffering a stroke will be reduced to that of a person who has never smoked previously.
Myth #6: I Should Stop Working Out If I Have Been Diagnosed with Heart Disease
Studies have found that people who have a history of heart disease should engage in physical activity regularly. This can lower their risk of complications associated with heart disorders. However, some barriers prevent doctors from prescribing a suitable exercise regimen and ensuring patient adherence.
Fortunately, the use of technology may offer a solution that you can use remotely within the comforts of a person’s own home. TCM practitioner, physician Lim Sock Ling explains, “The key to good health is moderation, and this applies to exercise too. Strength training and aerobic exercise will help strengthen the heart muscle so that it can draw more oxygen and reduce the need for the heart to pump harder.”
These include home-based exercise programmes accompanied by live monitoring of physical activity and guidance on goal setting. Alternatively, you can boost your heart health by consuming a capsule of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Myth #7: It Is Not Possible to Treat Inherited Cardiovascular Disease
“Although the risk of having a heart attack or stroke rises with genetics, studies have shown that lifestyle changes, physical activity and statin drugs could possibly reduce their risk by 40%-50%,” physician Lim says, adding some good examples like quitting smoking, maintaining an ideal weight, consuming a healthy diet, and getting regular physical activity. Studies have shown that individuals with a high genetic risk for heart disease could reduce the risk by up to 46%, by taking these actions.
Genetic, genomic and environmental factors are vital in determining how well people respond to prescribed medications according to their gene type. Pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics have demonstrated the ability to optimise therapy by predicting a person’s response to medications.
This is particularly effective for determining if a person is benefiting from the use of a specific medicine. It can also help identify if a person is at risk of toxicity by taking certain medications for cardiovascular disease.
A person’s risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age but lifestyle risk factors largely influence it. Understanding your risk factors and taking the necessary prevention, including traditional Chinese remedies, can help lower your risk of developing heart problem.
- US National Library of Medicine. 2010. Gender differences in coronary heart disease. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2018. Awareness of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in U.S. Young Adults Aged 18–39 Years. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
- OXFORD ACADEMIC. 2006. Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factor Knowledge in Young Adults and 10-year Change in Risk Factors: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2018. Heart attack versus cardiac arrest. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
- OXFORD ACADEMIC. 2007. STEMI and NSTEMI: are they so different? 1 year outcomes in acute myocardial infarction as defined by the ESC/ACC definition (the OPERA registry). [Accessed 1 September 2021]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SMOKING AND CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2013. Physical Activity and Exercise for Secondary Prevention among Patients with Cardiovascular Disease. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
- World Health Organization. Cardiovascular Disease and Heredity: Possibilities for Prevention and Management with Genetics. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
- Department of Statistics Malaysia. Statistics on Causes of Death, Malaysia, 2020. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
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