Myths and Facts of Heart Attacks

Just imagine…You’re sitting in a movie theater fighting the nausea and indigestion you’ve been feeling all day.  Then you breakout into a cold sweat and begin having abdominal pain.  Thinking you have food poisoning, your friend rushes you to the hospital, but that is when you find out you’re having a heart attack. You wonder how that’s possible. You didn’t feel a sharp pain in your chest or strange sensations in your arms like you heard others having.

Heart attacks – There’s a ton of information out there, but what exactly is myth and what is fact? Here are 10 common heart attack myths and facts:

Myth #1: Heart attack symptoms are the same for everyone.

Fact: Heart attack symptoms are not the same for everyone.  In fact, men and women may even experience different heart attack symptoms. Common heart attack symptoms include

  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Jaw, neck, arm, shoulder or back pain
  • Shortness of breath

Women are more likely to experience nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, and back and/or jaw pain. 1

Myth #2: Heart attack symptoms are always sudden.

Fact: Heart attack signs and symptoms may appear days or weeks before a heart attack occurs. A common warning sign is experiencing pain or pressure in your chest caused by a decrease of blood reaching the heart. 2

Myth #3: Only older adults have heart attacks.

Fact: Heart attacks are occurring more in younger people, especially among young women. 3

Myth #4: You’ll have a heart attack if someone in your family does.

Fact: Because of your family history, you may be at risk of developing heart disease. However, taking preventative steps can help reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attack. 4

Myth #5: Wait for your symptoms to get worse before calling 9-11.

Fact: Don’t wait. The longer you wait, the greater the damage to your heart.  Waiting can be fatal. 5

Myth #6: Men are more likely to die after a heart attack.

Fact: Compared to men, women are more likely to die from a heart attack. This could be due to being misdiagnosed, waiting longer to seek treatment, and not receiving the appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment. 6,7

Myth #7: A second heart attack will feel the same as the first.

Fact: Repeat heart attacks don’t always feel the same.  Some people who have repeat heart attacks report feeling different symptoms from their first heart attack. 8

Myth #8: All chest pain equals a heart attack.

Fact: Angina is a common type of chest pain that happens when blood isn’t reaching your heart. There are two types of angina, stable and unstable.  Stable angina occurs when performing an activity or when under stress. Unstable angina can occur even while resting. Angina is different from a heart attack as it does not permanently damage the heart muscle. 9

Myth #9: You can’t exercise after having a heart attack.

Fact: Exercise can improve your heart health even after a heart attack. Once your doctor clears you for exercise, you can slowly begin an exercise plan. 10

Myth #10: Everyone knows when they’re having a heart attack.

Fact: It is possible to have a heart attack without knowing. Silent heart attacks have a different intensity than a classic heart attack and occurs with little to no symptoms.11

Dispel the myths. Do your research and speak with your doctor about your heart health concerns.


[1]. American Heart Association. (2016). Warning Signs of a Heart Attack.  

[2]. Mayo Clinic. (2018). Heart Attack.

[3]. American Heart Association. (2018). Heart attacks are becoming more common in younger people, especially women.

[4]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Prevent Heart Disease.  

[5]. American Heart Association. (2015). Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest: How Are They Different?

[6]. Alabas, O. A., Gale, C. P., Hall, M., Rutherford, M. J., Szummer, K., Lawesson, S. S., Jernberg, T. (2017). Sex Differences in Treatments, Relative Survival, and Excess Mortality Following Acute Myocardial Infarction: National Cohort Study Using the SWEDEHEART Registry. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(12). doi:10.1161/jaha.117.007123

[7]. American College of Cardiology. (2015). Women Don’t Get to Hospital Fast Enough During Heart Attack.

[8]. American College of Cardiology. (2016). Heart Attack.

[9]. American Heart Association. (2016). About Heart Attacks.

[10]. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Exercise and Activity After a Heart Attack.

[11]. American Heart Association Go Red for Women. (n.d.). What is a Silent Heart Attack?

For the Love of Your Heart

This February marks the 56th anniversary of American Heart Month.  With heart disease being the leading cause of death in America, and the leading cause of death in the world, it’s important that people in America receive heart health education.1, 2

Exactly what is heart disease? Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a group of conditions that affect your heart health. Having narrow or blocked blood vessels are two common causes of heart disease. When there is a buildup of plaque (a mix of cholesterol, calcium, fat and other substances) in your blood vessels and/or a blockage, it makes it hard for blood and oxygen to move throughout your body so that it can function properly.  Now heart disease isn’t the disease itself but covers a range of diseases like coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, heart failure, and cardiomyopathy.

Build up of plaque in blood vessel

Whether you want to take steps to prevent heart disease or you want to maintain your health, there are several risk factors that play a role in your heart health; factors you have control over and others you do not.  Family history, age, sex, and race are factors that are outside of your control. However, there are many heart disease risk factors that you do have control over including:

  • Diet and sodium intake
  • Weight
  • Physical activity
  • Alcohol intake
  • Tobacco use
  • Sleep habits 
  • Stress management

So, what are some steps you can take to prevent/manage your heart health?

  • Limit your sodium intake. We need sodium to help control our blood pressure and even contract our muscles, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Having a lot of sodium in your body increases blood flow and causes a constant high-pressured force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels causing damage. For someone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or any other health condition, the daily limit of salt is 1,500 mg, that’s a little over ½ a teaspoon of salt. For those without a chronic condition, the daily limit is 2,300 mg.3
  • Be physically active. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults perform at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, of aerobic physical activity each week. Don’t feel overwhelmed! You can break your physical activity up throughout the day. 4
  • Shed the pounds.  Having extra weight on your frame may cause your heart to work harder. Research has shown that losing five to 10 pounds can improve your blood pressure. 5
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.  Alcohol temporarily increases blood pressure after one drink, but consistently drinking over time leads to high blood pressure (hypertension). It is recommended that men limit their alcohol intake to 2 drinks per day and women to 1 drink per day. 6
  • Quit smoking. It’s easier said than done, but it is possible.  Twenty minutes after you quit smoking your blood pressure drops, and your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack decreases after 1 year of quitting. is a resource for those looking for support.7
  • Get some sleep, restorative sleep.  There are five stages in the sleep cycle and stages 3 and 4 are two of the most important.  During those two stages, your body begins to repair itself and your blood pressure decreases.  Practicing sleep hygiene may help improve your quality and quantity of sleep.
  • Manage your stress.  Learning how to manage stress can improve your heart health.  Chronic stress can lead to overeating, less sleep, and a decrease in physical activity. Think about what your stress triggers are and healthy activities you can do to relieve stress.  Also learn what you do and do not have control over. 8
  • Know your numbers. Keeping track of your blood pressure, cholesterol, A1C (average blood sugar number over 2 – 3 months), and weight can help you gauge if your numbers fall within a healthy range.
Note: The target fasting blood sugar range for a diabetic is 80 – 130 mg/dL and less than 180 mg/dL two hours after a meal (American Diabetes Association, 2020).

Practice self-love this Valentine’s Day, and every day of the year, for the love of your heart.


[1]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Heart Disease Facts .

[2]. American Heart Association. (2015). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – At-a-Glance.

[3]. American Heart Association. (2018). How much sodium should I eat per day?

[4]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

[5]. American Heart Association. (2016). Managing Weight to Control High Blood Pressure.

[6]. American Heart Association. (2016). Limiting Alcohol to Manage High Blood Pressure.

[7]. American Cancer Society. (2018). Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time.

[8]. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Risk Factors for Heart Disease: Don’t Underestimate Stress.

Welcome to The World of Public Health

Hi there, and welcome to The World of Public Health. I’m Tonja Rice, a Certified Health Education Specialist who is passionate about serving and educating others.

How it all began…

My experience in the public health field has been quite a journey to say the least. During my final year in undergrad at UMBC, two of my professors advised me to look into public health. I had no idea what public health was, but after doing some research, I realized it was a step in the right direction.

I began looking into graduate programs. However, I wanted to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer isn’t a process that happens overnight, and I wanted to spend one month abroad to make sure I really wanted to do a two-year Peace Corps stint. I literally was going to quit my full-time job so that I could spend a month in Ghana, but my Manager said I wouldn’t need to.

I was nervous, excited, and in awe as the plane landed in Accra. Being there was an eye opening experience. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve as an English/Health Teacher; and for the very first time, I felt free.

Three months after I returned home from Ghana, it was time for me to pack my bags and move to Tanzania. Living in a village, finding out how I could be of service to those around me, learning about other people, teaching, just being there continually changed my perspective and outlook on life.

Although I had to return home after 10 months, my time in Tanzania cemented that I wanted to work with women and children, that I wanted to be a Health Educator, and that I’m not only to serve in my own backyard in America, but across the globe. It cemented my purpose.

Since then, my goal has been to provide health education services to as many people as possible. In my career as a Health Educator, I have provided education to over 500 people, developed and co-developed health programs and workshops domestically and in Tanzania, spearheaded community health events, and even worked as an HIV Testing Counselor.

I am now in a new phase of my career, and would like to use this blog as an outlet to educate others about various public health topics. I hope you will take this journey with me. Questions or comments? Feel free to contact me at