This blog post is part of the Google+ Healthy Hangouts series on breaking and timely health news.
How much do you really know about heart disease? Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusing information out there. Myths, misconceptions and outdated information cloud the discussion and unfortunately, leave many of us ill-equipped to effectively protect ourselves.
To help clear up some of these widely held myths, we held a Google+ Hangout with the American Heart Association and DailyRx featuring a panel of experts including three cardiologists, two cardiothoracic surgeons, a personal trainer and a patient.
If you missed the Hangout, not to worry. We’ve broken down the information we found most important and surprising. Did you know that the chicken nuggets many of us eat from fast food chains can contain more sodium than the french fries? Me neither.
I also didn’t know the facts behind these six myths…
Myth No. 1: If your blood pressure or cholesterol is high, you will feel it.
Unless you know your “numbers” and have them checked on a regular basis, you could be on the verge of a cardiac event like a heart attack and not be aware. Most people think that if something is wrong with their bodies, they will feel it. While this is definitely true in many cases, it’s not necessarily true with heart disease.
During the Hangout, our panel of experts pointed out that many of their patients have no symptoms at all and are not even aware they have heart disease until it’s caught through a screening. And sometimes it’s not known until they have an actual cardiac event.
To help keep track of your own numbers, download this free “Know Your Numbers” pocket card. This handy tool is smaller than a credit card and should fit nicely in your wallet.
Myth No. 2: Eating eggs should be avoided because of their high cholesterol levels
For years it seems that eggs have been the poster child for high cholesterol foods. Remember Ben Stiller’s acceptance speech at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards where he called eggs “the worst villain of all?” As it turns out, eggs are actually a “near perfect food,” according to our panel of experts.
They are nutritious, protein-rich and a great source of vitamin D. However, eggs do contain a high level of cholesterol. There are 213 mg of cholesterol in one large egg, for example. Check out this WebMd article for more nutritional information about eggs.
The bottom line: it’s okay to eat eggs in moderation. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends one egg per day while limiting the rest of your cholesterol/saturated fat intake.
And if you do like to eat eggs, it would be wise to cut out the bacon, sausage and cheese that usually go with them.
Myth No. 3: Cut the salt and you can decrease your sodium levels.
Have you ever looked at the amount of sodium on food labels? You may be shocked if you do. Sodium is present in almost everything we eat, especially in boxed and canned foods. In fact, some soups contain almost 1,000 mg of sodium per serving. The recommended daily intake of sodium is 180 to 500 mg per day. Just because you can’t taste the salt in your food doesn’t mean it’s not there. Even if you don’t season your food with salt, you could still be consuming dangerous levels of sodium.
So how can you avoid consuming excess amounts? Eat as many freshly prepared foods as possible. Our panel of experts recommends that when cooking freshly prepared foods don’t add any salt until the end when you’re seasoning your food to taste. This will help you control the amount of sodium you’re consuming.
Myth No. 4: If you exercise on a regular basis, you can eat anything you want.
This is a huge misconception. Burning off calories is important for weight loss, but justifying a daily hamburger because you’ll “burn it off” later can be dangerous for your heart. Sandra Leon, a local woman who participated in our Hangout, looks like the picture of health. She is young and beautiful, trim and fit. She was a very active person who practiced yoga and ran the Katy Trail.
In fact, it was during a run on the trail when she got the call from her cardiologist telling her to come to the hospital ASAP. She later learned that one of her arteries was blocked by as much as 80 percent and the other by 90 percent. She needed a stent to help alleviate the blockage. Sandra had been experiencing “episodes” of sweating and shortness of breath, but never imagined her symptoms were heart-related. Because she wasn’t overweight, she assumed her heart was healthy.
Sandra says she has now curbed her burger-a-week habit to once a month and pays close attention to her numbers.
Myth No. 5: Heart attack symptoms always include chest pain and numbness in the left arm.
In fact, some of the most common heart attack symptoms don’t seem like they are related to your heart at all. The American Heart Association says that symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Other signs may include shortness of breath — with or without chest discomfort — breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Our panel recommends that if you’re having a symptom you’ve never had before and suspect it may be a heart attack, call 911 immediately.
Myth No. 6: Cardiovascular exercise must be intense to benefit your heart.
One of the most surprising tips I learned from our panel was that you don’t have to be an athlete or run on the treadmill for hours a day to effectively exercise your heart. Even 30 minutes of cardio a day is better than nothing. One of our experts recommended 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. I think I can manage that. Can you?
I’ll leave you with some final words from one of our panelists, Clyde Yancy, M.D., a cardiologist from Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a past president of the American Heart Association: “Do more. Eat Less. Know your numbers.”
If you would like to watch the Hangout in its entirety, just click below: