Myth: If you’re not having chest pain, it’s not a heart attack
Although chest pain and pressure like there’s an elephant sitting on your chest is a common sign of a heart attack, it’s not the only one—especially for women. “Women are more likely to experience some atypical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, heartburn, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and neck, back, or arm pain,” says Laxmi Mehta, MD, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “These subtle symptoms can sometimes make it difficult for women to recognize that something may be wrong with their heart.” According to the American Heart Association, symptoms can even seem like the flu, and may lead women to delay getting treatment. One study showed that most of the women who’d had a heart attack didn’t recognize their symptoms, and noted that younger women with heart disease are more likely to die in the hospital as similarly-aged men. Watch out for these strange symptoms that can signal a serious disease.
Myth: Men are more likely to get heart attacks than women
We tend to think of heart disease as a male problem—but it’s are the number one killer of both men and women. An American Heart Association survey found that most women don’t feel they have a personal risk for heart disease, which isn’t true. “Many women worry about ‘bikini medicine’—breast and reproductive health—as being their largest risk,” Dr. Mehta says. “Almost 400,000 deaths were attributed to cardiovascular disease and 41,000 to breast cancer in women in a recent publication from the American Heart Association using data from the CDC.” Myths about women and heart disease don’t just exist for patients—In the American Heart Association survey, providers focused more on women’s weight rather than other factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, which could cause some at-risk women to be overlooked.
Myth: You “know” when you have high blood pressure
When we think of high blood pressure, we picture someone sweating and nervous with a flushed face. However, on its webpage of Blood Pressure Symptoms, The American Heart Association cheekily says: “If you are looking for a list of symptoms and signs of high blood pressure, you won’t find them here. This is because most of the time, there are none.” According to Dr. Ragvendra Baliga, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, high blood pressure (hypertension) is called the “silent killer” because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until there’s major damage to vital organs. “Uncontrolled hypertension can ultimately lead to serious damage such as stroke, heart failure, and kidney failure, so it is important to detect high blood pressure before it causes damage,” he says. Even if you feel fine, it’s important to see your doctor regularly to get your blood pressure checked.