Not only are heart attacks dangerous because they interrupt blood supply to the heart—they are dangerous because of the misconceptions many people are why they happen and when to seek care.
To help clear the air around heart attacks we’ve gathered the 5 myths we hear most frequently and have addressed each with facts.
Remember: If you suspect the symptoms of a heart attack, dial 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.
Don’t worry if you have doubts. Paramedics would rather be called out to find an honest mistake has been made than be too late to save a person’s life.
Myth 1: A person having a heart attack always feels sharp pain and numbness in the arm
Heart attack symptoms vary widely and chest pain and numbness are not always present. Other symptoms can include difficulty breathing, sweating, a cold or clammy feeling, nausea or vomiting, fluttering in the chest or light-headedness.
Women in particular often do not experience ‘classic’ symptoms. Fatigue, palpitations and sometimes a less intense chest pain is often reported by women having a heart attack.
Myth 2: During a heart attack, the heart stops beating
Sometimes the heart stops beating, but not always. During a heart attack, the heart muscle begins to die. The heart may continue to beat but the situation is serious and you must seek urgent medical care.
Myth 3: A young, healthy person with normal cholesterol will not have a heart attack
A person with a normal cholesterol level is less likely to experience a heart attack, but no one is immune. Many factors contribute to heart attack risk including your genetic makeup. Even young people can have heart attacks.
Myth 4: Heart disease is a man’s disease
Cardiovascular disease kills the same proportion of women as it does men—that’s over a quarter of all men and women. In fact, coronary heart disease (a type of cardiovascular disease) kills more than twice as many women than breast cancer. Considering these figures it’s worrying that some women believe that heart disease won’t affect them, instead believing it’ll only affect middle-aged men.
Myth 5: Coughing vigorously during a heart attack could save your life
There is no medical evidence to support ‘couch CPR’, which suggests you can help yourself by couching vigorously if you think you’re having a heart attack and are alone. If you have a cardiac arrest you would become unconscious, and without immediate CPS (chest compressions and rescue breaths), you would die.
If you are still conscious (able to do ‘cough CPR’, then you are not in cardiac arrest and therefore CPR is not needed, but urgent medical help is vital.