A Cardiology Quiz - Myths Versus Facts

Article Date: Feb 8, 2010

Jeff Carstens, M.D.
Dr. Van De Graaff

People hear different things about heart disease from several different sources - email, friends and television - just to name a few. We asked Alegent Health Clinic Cardiologists, Jeff Carstens, M.D., and Eric Van De Graaff, M.D., to help us sort through the myths and the facts concerning heart disease.

Heart disease is more of a problem for men than it is for women. Myth and Fact - Although men tend to develop heart disease at an earlier age, both genders are at risk. Heart disease is by far the leading cause of death in women – not cancer as many people might guess.

If heart disease doesn't run in your family, you shouldn't have to worry about it. Myth - While family history is an important predictor, there are a number of risk factors for heart disease many of which you can control. Two of the most important are cholesterol levels and smoking. Others include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity. Here’s something else to think about - as Americans live longer, many of us will develop heart disease without any kind of family history.

Nitroglycerin saves lives. Myth - Nitroglycerin is an effective treatment of chest pain due to poor blood flow to heart muscle, but it is not the difference between life and death. If a patient is having a heart attack, there are several medications doctors can give that increase a their chance of survival such as aspirin, blood pressure medications and thrombolytics or “clot busters.” Nitroglycerin has never demonstrated any effect other than to temporarily alleviating discomfort.

Salt clogs arteries. Myth - Salt doesn’t clog your veins or arteries. Salt doesn’t build up anywhere in your body. The real issue is cholesterol blocking arteries. Salt has other bad effects on the cardiovascular system, including: water retention in your body and salt-sensitive hypertension. Most Americans should cut back on their daily salt consumption.

Taking an aspirin when having a heart attack will help your chance of survival. Fact - While it is true that taking an aspirin when having a heart attack will improve survival rates, the more important thing to do if any heart attack warning signs occur is to call 911 immediately. After dialing 911, the operator may recommend that a patient take an aspirin after they have determined that there is no allergy to aspirin. But aspirin won't treat a heart attack by itself. Research has shown that getting an aspirin early in the treatment of a heart attack, along with other treatments that Emergency Medical Technicians and Emergency Department physicians provide, can significantly improve chances for survival. Accredited Chest Pain Centers are located within the Emergency Departments at all five Alegent Health metro Omaha hospitals. The centers ars staffed 24 hours a day with board certified physicians and nurses who are specially trained to treat patients with chest pain.

Stents prevent heart attacks. Myth - Simply putting a stent in a blocked coronary artery does nothing to change the stability of a blockage or prevent other blockages that could cause a heart attack. The real treatment for someone with risk factors for coronary disease is simply risk factor modification, such as smoking cessation, diet, exercise and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels. One study concluded that after 18 months of treatment, statin drugs did a better job of decreasing heart attacks and strokes than opening a blockage of a single-vessel coronary stenosis in the cath lab.

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