Myths about heart disease

COVID-19 affects only the lungs

This pandemic has so far victimized (as of August 18, 2020) more than 22 million and killed almost 800,000 people around the globe – nearly 5.6 million, with about 174,000 deaths in the United States alone; and almost 170,000 cases and close to 2,700 deaths in the Philippines.

In all cases worldwide, clinical findings have shown that COVID-19 affects multiple organs, foremost of which is the heart. The devastating killer cytokine storm in a full-blown COVID-19 case destroys the lungs and causes inflammation and damage to the heart, the liver, kidneys, and even the brain. Studies the past six months have also shown that people who wash their hands and face often; wear a cap, a mask/face shield, gloves; and practice social distancing when in public have significantly less chance of getting infected. It is prudent to follow this health guideline to protect ourselves and others, especially the vulnerable seniors. While we minimize non-essential travels and are home-bound, let us have a positive mental attitude and hope in our heart. This, too, shall pass.

Heart disease is inherited

Rarely, certain congenital (inborn) structural defects of the heart may be genetic, but in general, we cannot blame our ancestry for the heart diseases that are very common today like coronary artery disease (cause of heart attacks) or heart valve diseases (due to Rheumatic Fever). Although some families seem to be more prone to heart attacks, and the traits could be a part of the genes, the important causative factors in this situation are mostly not heredity but environmental – the lifestyle of family members. These significant etiologic factors include smoking; eating red meat, eggs and other high cholesterol foods; lack of exercise; obesity; unmanaged stress; hypercholesterolemia (elevated cholesterol blood level); untreated hypertension; and diabetes mellitus (especially poorly controlled ones).

Sex is bad for the heart

On the contrary, sex is good for the heart. The morphine-like opiates and other feel-good hormones our own body secretes during sex or during any happy activity or thought process we have – the physical exercise during sex, and the healthy outlet it provides both partners – actually benefit the heart. Only those with untreated coronary artery disease or heart failure could get into trouble during sex. With proper treatment and medical guidance, these patients can indulge in sex safely. Heart attack is a treacherous enemy. It must be detected and treated before it strikes. This is why medical consultation is important among men or women over 40 years old, or among the younger ones who have symptoms or concerns about their health.

Children of heart attack victims will have the same fate

This is not true. Even if both parents have had heart attacks or coronary artery disease, their children are not necessarily condemned to the same fate, provided the children live a healthier lifestyle, unlike their parents. If these children stay on a low cholesterol diet; eat fish (instead of red meat), a lot of vegetables, fruits, and high fiber foods; do not smoke; exercise at least 5 times a week; maintain a normal weight; and know how to relax and manage stress, they can escape significant coronary artery disease.

Women rarely have heart disease

Wrong. As one of the old cigarette commercials stated, “You’ve come a long way, Baby.” Since today’s modern women have entered the “men’s world” – working, smoking, drinking, competing, hustling like men – they have indeed “come a long way,” approximating men in most respects, even in the incidence of coronary artery disease and heart attacks among them. Young women as a rule have greater resistance to coronary artery disease because of the protective effects of the female hormone called estrogen. However, women with unhealthy lifestyles negate the benefits of estrogen and suffer heart disease like men. The 2-to-1 (male to female) vulnerability has been narrowing the past 3 decades.

Executives are prime victims of heart attacks

Not so. We used to believe that top job responsibility and stressful executive positions led to higher incidence of heart attacks. Recent studies have proven this to be a fallacy. In a study, bartenders were found to be more vulnerable to heart attacks than barbers, and barbers more prone than physicians. In another series, blue-collar workers were found to be more susceptible to heart attacks than supervisory personnel and executives. It is obvious that lifestyle, and not the line of work, position or rank, is more of the determinant factor in heart attacks.

Those below 40 do not get heart disease

Another myth. The youngest patient we did coronary bypass surgery on in Indiana was a 28-year-old diabetic Caucasian female who had very high cholesterol level, high blood pressure, and was a cigarette smoker. At Cebu Cardiovascular Center in Cebu City, the youngest heart bypass patient we had was a 34-year-old man. Coronary artery disease does not respect any age, gender, or any person who abuses himself/herself with an unhealthy lifestyle.

Exercise damages the heart

Definitely does not. The heart can take a lot more challenges than one can imagine. It is one of the strongest muscular organs in the human body. Exercise has beneficial effects on the heart. Even heart attack patients who have recovered from the acute phase are prescribed an exercise regimen. Exercise dilates (opens wider) coronary arteries that supply the heart muscles with oxygen and nutrition. The benefits conferred by regular moderate exercise are “cumulative and lasting.” If in doubt about your fitness to do exercises, consult your physician.

High blood pressure is due to heart disease

This is another misinformation. The reverse is true: untreated or poorly controlled hypertension (high blood pressure) can lead to coronary artery disease or even heart failure. High blood pressure is, in most cases, essential or idiopathic (cause unknown), but definitely not due to heart disease. High blood pressure taxes the heart and makes the cardiac muscles work harder, and in many cases this causes cardiac hypertrophy (enlarged heart). Early effective treatment for hypertension reduces morbidity and prolongs life.

A heart attack dooms a person

False. There are millions of heart attack victims who have survived around the world and fully recovered from it and led a normal life. Many have even become much healthier than before by following cardiac rehabilitation, having better discipline, through behavioral modification, and after living a healthier lifestyle like switching to a heart-smart diet, quitting cigarettes, avoiding alcohol abuse, doing daily exercise and practicing stress management. Those with a positive attitude in life usually have a higher rate of recovery.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian and anti-graft foundation in the United States. Visit our websites: and; Email: [email protected].

Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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