Majority of Americans have their heart health facts wrong

Despite the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., about three-quarters (74 percent) of Americans do not fear dying from it, according to a recent survey from Cleveland Clinic.


Conducted as part of its "Love Your Heart" consumer education campaign in celebration of Heart Month, the survey found that Americans are largely misinformed about heart disease prevention and symptoms, and almost a third (32 percent) of them are not taking any proactive steps to prevent it. Even among those Americans with a family history of the disease (39 percent), who are at a significantly higher risk, 26 percent do not take any preventative steps to protect their heart health, according to the survey.

Perhaps even more concerning is that the majority (70 percent) of Americans are unaware of all the symptoms of heart disease, even though two out of three (64 percent) have or know someone who has the disease. Only 30 percent of Americans correctly identified unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances and jaw pain as all being signs of heart disease -- just a few of the symptoms that can manifest.

"Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in this country, so it's disappointing to see that so many Americans are unaware of the severity of not taking action to prevent heart disease, or how exactly to do so," said Steven Nissen, M.D., Chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. "This is a disease that can largely be prevented and managed, but you have to be educated about how to do so and then incorporate prevention into your lifestyle."

Unfortunately, the survey shows Americans are not well educated about general heart health and heart disease prevention:

Many Americans believe the myth that fish oil can prevent heart disease.

Though fish oil does offer health benefits, it does little to prevent heart disease. Even so, more than half of Americans (55 percent) believe the recommended daily dose of fish oil can prevent heart disease. Yet, the truth is that one would have to consume enough fish oil to literally smell like fish for it to have any beneficial effect. In addition, some seafood can be just as high in cholesterol as red meat, a fact that only 45 percent of Americans know.

Vitamins are viewed -- mistakenly -- as a key to heart disease prevention.

More than half (61 percent) of Americans incorrectly believe that vitamins or other supplements have a positive effect on hearth health, and 44 percent believe they can lower cholesterol. Studies have shown that vitamins have almost no effect on heart health, and some can be detrimental.

There is a lack of awareness about secret sodium sources.

About one-third (32 percent) of Americans inaccurately believe that cheese is the biggest source of sodium in the average diet, when in fact bread products have the higher salt content. Only 24 percent identified bread as the leading sodium culprit, leaving three-quarters of Americans completely unaware.

Americans believe there is a heart disease gene.

According to the survey, 59 percent of Americans believe a heart disease gene could be the key to determining their predisposition to the condition, yet no such gene has been identified. While no single gene exists, family history is an important risk factor that can predispose you to getting heart disease, even if you make all the right lifestyle choices.

"There is no single way to prevent heart disease, given that every person is different," Dr. Nissen added. "Yet there are five things everyone should learn when it comes to their heart health because they can make an enormous difference and greatly improve your risk: eat right, exercise regularly, know your cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index numbers, do not use tobacco, and know your family history. Taking these steps can help lead to a healthier heart and a longer, more vibrant life."

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