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These Myths Can be Harmful to Your Health

By now you're savvy enough to raise an eyebrow at a suspicious health "fact" when you hear one. Tampons contain asbestos? Drinking lemonade will make you lose 10 pounds in five days? You're just not buying it. Unfortunately, some misinformation is only slightly off from the truth, so it's a little trickier to spot. Watch out for these easy-to-fall-for myths from Woman's Day magazine.

Myth: You only need to worry about cholesterol if you're overweight.

While it's true that women who are overweight are at higher risk for having elevated cholesterol levels, there are also plenty of slender people who have cholesterol problems. Your genes and lifestyle - what you eat, how active you are --also play a role. So be sure to get your cholesterol checked regularly, even if you're at a healthy weight.

Myth: It's normal to always be tired.

We all have days when we feel droopy, but if you're dragging for longer than four weeks or have a week or two of feeling so tired you can't keep up with the kids or perform at work, check in with your doctor. Fatigue can be a symptom of many conditions, ranging from anemia, thyroid problems and sleep apnea to heart disease. Even if it turns out to be nothing serious, medication or other therapies may help you feel more rested.

Myth: If you're having a heart attack, you'll feel chest pain.

We all have an image of the classic heart attack victim who clutches his chest and falls to the ground. This is often true: Both men and women tend to experience shooting chest pain that radiates to the left arm and pressure that feels like an elephant sitting on your chest. But that's not always the case. Some people - women in particular - have shortness of breath that seems to come out of nowhere, or pain in the arms, neck, jaw or back (particularly on the upper left side). Sweating, feeling anxious or extremely tired, and color draining from your face can also be signs that you're having a heart attack. Never be embarrassed to go to the emergency room and say, "I think I'm having a heart attack," especially if you have a family history of heart disease or other known risk factors, such as high cholesterol. And don't hesitate to call 911: Time is crucial. There is a window of six to 12 hours in which treatment can save the heart muscle. After that, the damage may be irreversible.

Myth: Colon cancer is primarily a man's disease.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in women. That's why everyone should get screened starting at age 50, such as with a colonoscopy every 10 years. (If you have a family history or other risk factors, you may need to be screened earlier and/or more often.) And if colon cancer is caught early, it has a very good prognosis. Understandably, no one looks forward to a colonoscopy, but it's probably not as bad as you think (the prep is usually the worst part). You shouldn't have pain or bleeding afterward; if you do for some reason, call your doctor right away.

Myth: You don't need to see a gynecologist every year.

True, the latest guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that most women ages 21 to 29 can get a Pap smear every two years, and that women 30 and older can get one every three years (assuming they've had three normal test results in a row). But a Pap isn't the only reason to go to your gynecologist, during an annual checkup, she should be physically examining your entire reproductive system (including your breasts, ovaries and vulva). Even women who've had a hysterectomy should get this annual exam.

Myth: If my doctor doesn't call with test results, everything must be fine.

Don't assume no news is good news. Things can get lost in fax heaven, or one person in the office may assume that someone else has already contacted you. It's particularly easy for communication to break down if your doctor sends you elsewhere for tests and the results have to be sent to her office. If more than two weeks have gone by and you haven't received test results, call and ask for them. It doesn't matter whether you had standard blood work or a biopsy. You don't want to risk valuable time if you end up needing further treatment or evaluation.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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