6 Surprising Facts About Heart Disease

Published: Monday, November 11, 2019

Cardiovascular (heart) disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States—accounting for 40 percent of all deaths.

While you may be familiar with these statistics, there are some lesser-known facts about heart disease that you can use to reduce your risk of heart disease and cardiac events and to promote overall heart health. Below are six important facts about heart disease you should know.

1. A yearly flu shot can benefit your heart.

Did you know that for people with heart disease, getting a flu shot is particularly important? Heart disease can lower your body’s ability to fight the flu and increase your likelihood of developing serious complications such as heart attack, pneumonia and respiratory failure. Getting a yearly flu shot can help prevent complications from the infection and prevent your heart disease symptoms from worsening.

If you have heart disease, be sure to opt for the flu shot instead of the nasal spray vaccine. The nasal spray is not recommended for individuals with heart disease, as the spray contains a live version of the flu virus and has not been assessed for safety in people with heart conditions.

2. Spending time with friends and family can lower your heart attack risk.

Studies have found that people who live by themselves are two times more likely to have a heart attack than people who live with a roommate or partner.

Research has long suggested that regular social interaction and social connectedness play an important role in overall health, as well as heart health. One hypothesis explaining this effect is that spending time with friends and family can mitigate stress and fend off depression—both of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Another study found that laughing can protect heart health, as it causes blood vessels to relax and expand—again, pointing to the health benefits of spending time with close friends.

3. Many heart attacks occur on Monday mornings.

Researchers have noticed that heart attacks are particularly common during the fall and winter, and on Monday mornings. This is believed to be the case because the body has to work harder to pump blood, which is thicker in the morning. At the same time, in the morning, the body’s stress hormones such as cortisol spike.

Some studies have found that the morning may be the most dangerous time to experience a heart attack, as these heart attacks tend to be more severe.

4. Chewing an aspirin as soon as heart attack symptoms appear can limit heart damage.

After calling 911, the first thing you should do if you start experiencing heart attack symptoms is chewed —rather than swallow whole— a 325-milligram aspirin pill. Aspirin helps break up clots in the bloodstream that may be blocking blood flow to the heart and causing heart muscle cells to die. Breaking up these clots can prevent more heart muscle cells from dying.

Chewing the pill is recommended as it causes quicker results than swallowing it.

5. Playing racket sports such as tennis and squash may protect against cardiac death.

A 2016 study found that among research participants, people who played racket sports had the lowest risk of dying from any cause within the nine-year window during which the participants were tracked.

The study, which aimed to investigate whether certain forms of physical activity had greater health and longevity benefits than others, found that after racket sports, swimming, aerobics and cycling had the next-greatest reductions in nine-year risk from death from any cause. The researchers believe this reduction may be attributed to these sports’ engagement of both the upper and lower body, which pushes the heart to work harder.

Regardless of which physical activity you choose, the more time you spend exercising, the more your risk of cardiac death goes down.

6. Women under age 50 are two times more likely than men of the same age to die from a heart attack.

Once thought to be an issue affecting mostly men, heart disease is now recognized as a leading cause of death for women. In fact, while men are more likely than women to experience a heart attack—and at younger ages— women who do have heart attacks are more likely to die from them.

One reason women have lower survival rates may be that many women may not recognize lesser-known heart attack symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and dizziness. Researchers have also found that women may tend to downplay or ignore heart attack symptoms and delay seeking treatment as a result.

If you are a woman, it is important to know your risk and the status of your heart health, even if you have never experienced any symptoms of heart disease. Two out of three women who die from heart attacks, for example, never experienced chest pain prior to that heart attack. Coronary calcium scoring is a heart scan that can detect coronary artery disease in patients who do not have symptoms.

It is also important to know the heart attack symptoms that are more typical in women than in men—and to not ignore any symptoms when they arise. 

How can Georgia Heart Institute help?

Georgia Heart Institute is the state’s leader in cardiac care. Our physicians are recognized as some of the top cardiovascular physicians in the country.

We perform more than 9,000 cardiac procedures annually. Our board-certified cardiologists were trained at top institutions across the country and have vast experience that leads to high-quality care you can trust.

With several locations throughout northeast Georgia, Georgia Heart Institute is able to provide personal service with familiar faces near you.

To schedule an appointment, call 770-534-2020 or visit nghs.com/heart.