There’s no better time than February, National Heart Month, to start thinking about your heart and its importance to your overall health. In recognition of this important month, the cardiac specialists at Lexington Clinic would like to dispel five common misconceptions about heart health and heart disease.
Myth #1: Heart disease is disease found mostly in men.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This myth arises out of the fact that men tend to develop heart disease earlier in life, while women tend to develop it later, usually in their 60s and 70s. Once a woman experiences menopause, her risk of developing heart disease rises. “Women who have heart attacks tend to have poorer outcomes, in part because they are older, but also because their heart and vascular system is different,” says cardiologist Jason Zimmerman, M.D., of Lexington Clinic. “It doesn’t help that women often experience heart attacks differently than men and don’t seek help as quickly.”
Myth #2: Because heart disease tends to run in families, there’s nothing you can do to avoid getting it.
While it’s true there is a genetic component to heart disease, that doesn’t mean there’s no point in trying to reduce your risk. There are a lot of things people can do, including getting sufficient exercise, eating a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco, getting sufficient sleep and managing stress. These are simple steps that are within everyone’s reach. “It’s also a good idea to talk with your doctor about your family history and follow their recommendations for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar screenings,” says Dr. Zimmerman.
Myth #3: It’s normal for blood pressure to rise as we get older, so it’s really no big deal. “Yes, blood pressure does tend to rise with advancing age, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important,” says Dr. Zimmerman. High blood pressure at any age is serious and can lead to serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, heart fa ilure, kidney failure, aneurysm, blindness and even death. Regardless of age, most people should strive for a blood pressure of 120/80, he noted. “If your blood pressure is consistently higher than that, you should ta lk with your doctor about strategies to bring it down.” For some, hypertension can be difficult to manage. When this is the case, patients may be referred to a hypertension specialist.
Myth #4: Bypass surgery and cardiac catheterization cure heart disease. Many people have the mistaken belief that if they get a stent during a cardiac cath, or undergo bypass surgery, their heart disease is cured. But Dr. Zimmerman says that’s simply not the case.
“These procedures can restore blood flow to the heart muscle, but they don’t solve the underlying problem of plaque buildup in the coronary arteries.” Without medications and lifestyle changes, the disease process will continue and the patient may have another heart attack, or require additional procedures or surgeries.
Myth #5: There’s no point in quitting smoking, especially if you’ve done it for years, because the damage is already done. Every cigarette you smoke damages your lungs, heart and vascular system. But that doesn’t mean quitting is pointless. In fact, the body begins to heal itself within minutes of the last cigarette.
“The risk of having a heart attack declines within 24 hours,” Dr. Zimmerman says, “And your blood pressure and heart rate improve almost immediately.” Quitting smoking is hard, and most people will attempt to kick tobacco several times before they see success. “I tell all of my patients not to give up, not to be discouraged. Quitting smoking is the single most important thing they can do to protect their hearts. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”
The most important step in taking care of your heart and your overall health is to develop a standing relationship with your provider and have a continuing conversation about the best steps for you to get and stay healthy. If you do not have a provider and would like more information about establishing care, please call 859.258.4362 or visit LexingtonCiinic.com
Jason Zimmerman, M.D., is a cardiologist with Lexington Clinic. He is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty certifications in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology.
His special interests include hypertension management and lipidology. Dr. Zimmerman is certified by the American Society for Hypertension and the American Board of Lipidology.
New patients are welcome; for more information, please call (859) 258·5300.