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6 Heart Attack Myths

Posted 1/7/2015 by UHBlog

What’s your risk for heart disease? Ask your doctor.

6 Heart Attack Myths

This year more than 920,000 Americans will have a heart attack when plaque collects in the arteries, blocking the flow of blood to the heart. Not all of them will survive.

Unfortunately, physicians still encounter many dangerous myths about this common killer. Cardiologist Christine Zirafi, MD sets the record straight on six of the most persistent:

Myth #1: People having heart attacks feel sharp chest pain and numbness in the arm.

Fact: These are the classic signs of heart disease. But, says Dr. Zirafi, “a lot of people don’t have the ‘Hollywood heart attack’ with signs like the sensation of an elephant sitting on your chest.” Patients may experience upper body pain or discomfort anywhere in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach; shortness of breath; nausea; lightheadedness; cold sweats; indigestion or heaviness in the shoulder blades. “Women may experience extreme fatigue going back several weeks before the heart attack,” she says.

Myth #2: Taking an aspirin will stop a heart attack.

Fact: Taking one regular aspirin or four baby aspirins when symptoms start may limit the damage a heart attack can do to the heart muscle. But it will not stop a heart attack in progress. Treatment for a heart attack requires medications and a possible stent that are provided only in a hospital – so call 9-1-1 to give yourself the best chance of survival.

Myth #3: Someone who has had a heart attack should avoid strenuous physical activity.

Fact: After a heart attack, regular exercise can help your heart get stronger. But it’s important to have your doctor’s guidance. The program you follow will depend on your fitness before the heart attack and the extent of damage to the heart muscle. “Patients who exercise improve their long-term outcomes,” says Dr. Zirafi. “But exercise should be physician directed.”

Myth #4: People who are young and fit don’t need to worry about heart attacks.

Fact: Older age and low fitness levels increase your risk for heart attack. But being young and in shape may not protect you if you have a family history of heart disease or heart attack. Tell your doctor about your family’s experience with coronary disease to better assess and monitor your heart health.

Myth #5: Once you have a heart attack, the damage is done.

Fact: “If a blocked artery can be opened up in under 90 minutes, there is a marked improvement in the amount of damage you incur,” says Dr. Zirafi. “There may be no significant or lasting damage.” It’s critical to call an ambulance if suspicious symptoms last for more than a few minutes.

Myth #6: If a hospital is nearby, you should have someone drive you there.

Fact: It’s always better to call 9-1-1. For starters, you could experience a life-threatening heart rhythm en route. “More people will die before they get to the hospital than die once there,” says Dr. Zirafi. If you are in an ambulance, EMTs may be able to resuscitate you. They can also do an EKG and, if a heart attack is suspected, you will be taken to a facility designated to perform angioplasty and other life-saving interventions. “The heart team will be activated before you get there, so you will be treated more promptly,” she says. “Time is crucial. The faster the artery is opened up, the less likely you are to suffer permanent damage.”

Christine Zirafi, MD, is a cardiologist with University Hospitals Parma Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Zirafi or any other doctor online.

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