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Five CVD myths to be debunked

As Cardiovascular Disease continues to be the leading cause of death worldwide, so the need for accurate information about cardiovascular disease risk factors remains vital.

Here we explore five common myths around CVD …

1. Heart disease only affects older people: FALSE

22% of all Disability-Adjusted Life Years (or years of healthy life lost) in people aged 15 to 49 years are due to cardiovascular disease, according to data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 20161. Lifestyle choices made during childhood and adolescence affect cardiovascular risk later in life. For example, even from an early stage, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and lead to clogged arteries. Furthermore, the increase in the prevalence of risk factors such as obesity and type 2 diabetes can lead to cardiovascular problems at a younger age2.

2. If I had high blood pressure I would have obvious symptoms:
FALSE

The majority of people with hypertension do not show any symptoms. Occasionally, hypertension causes symptoms such as headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, heart palpitations and nosebleeds, but not always3. If left unchecked, hypertension can cause a myocardial infarction, a widening of the heart, stroke and, in the long run, heart failure.

3. Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do about it: FALSE

Genetic factors do play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease and other related conditions. However, environments and other factors also increase heart disease risk and should be always being addressed.4

The risk of heart disease can increase further when hereditary factors combine with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking and an unhealthy diet.

4. I’m less likely to develop heart disease if I’m active, eat well and don’t smoke:
TRUE … but

It’s true that a healthy lifestyle is one of the most effective measures in preventing cardiovascular disease. However, we must also bear in mind that there are other, less known cardiovascular risk factors, such as air pollution, that have an impact on an individuals’ likelihood of developing CVD 5.

5. Having diabetes doesn’t mean I have a higher chance of developing heart disease:
FALSE

CVD is the primary cause of death of all patients with diabetes.6 Diabetes was recognized as a CVD risk factor very early on in the exploration of risk factors in the Framingham Heart Study. In the study diabetes was found to offer a 2-4 fold increased risk of myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, stroke, and increased mortality. Moreover, diabetes was consistently found to be a stronger risk factor for CVD in women than men.

Sources:
1. Global Burden of Disease Study 2016
2. AHA
3. http://www.who.int/topics/hypertension/en/
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
5. Source: GBD 2016 Risk Factors Collaborators. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet 390, 1345–1422 (2017).
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3033760/