Nieca Goldberg M.D.

Your Well-Being

Five Falsehoods About Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. Know your facts.

Posted Mar 31, 2016

There’s a lot of conventional wisdom floating around social media about women and heart disease, but how much of it is true? Here are five popular, but false beliefs to look out for. Be sure to check with your physician if they raise any red flags.

1. Women don’t get heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, approximately 44 million American women are affected by heart disease, 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease and stroke, and heart disease is the number one cause of death for women.

2. If your HDL (“good” cholesterol) numbers are high, you don’t have to worry about your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) numbers.

All of your numbers count and if you don’t know them, you should. In addition to HDL and LDL, you should also know your triglyceride count and discuss what these numbers mean with your doctor who will advise you how to lower them if necessary.

3. Alcohol prevents heart disease.

While some studies have pointed to the benefits of red wine, others point to the effect actually being stronger with non-alcoholic wine or even grape juice. Keep in mind that none of this comes without caveats—consuming more sugar raises your risk of diabetes and excessive alcohol consumption raises your triglycerides and blood pressure and can even lead to stroke. Better idea: add a wide range of fruits and vegetables to your diet.

4. Warning signs for a heart attack are the same for men and women.

It’s important for women to know the warning signs of a cardiac event because they can differ radically from the classic movie portrayal of crushing chest pains that radiate down the left arm. Shortness of breath, back pain, jaw pain and nausea can all be warning signs in women. A sudden onset of flu-like symptoms can be particularly significant—actress Rosie O’Donnell had them right before her heart attack.

5. Taking regular walks isn’t enough exercise to improve your health.

Studies all agree—just 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can lower your cholesterol, improve your blood pressure and help you feel better. In addition, a regular walking regimen is kind to your joints and easy to make into a regular habit.