Myth or fact? Can one pig-out meal trigger a heart attack?

Oct 5, 2017 | 6 comments

Heart disease is the number one killer of middle-and upper-income men and women in North America, Latin America, and throughout the world.  An epidemic of obesity and its resulting complications, most importantly type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, increase the risk significantly. Smoking and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to heart disease risk too.

How many of these heart health myths or facts do you know?

Myth or Fact?  Strenuous exercise increases your risk for heart attack.

Myth: As reported in the Harvard Health Letter, exercise-related heart deaths are very rare, accounting for just 5% of sudden cardiac arrest cases. However, because most cases occur in people with known heart disease or in people who had experienced symptoms such as chest pain and breathlessness during the week before the event, it’s important to pay attention to any chest pain, difficulty breathing or other unusual symptom and get checked out, pronto.

Myth or Fact? Uncontrolled anger can give you a heart attack.

Fact. As reported in, research shows that a heart attack was almost nine times more likely to occur following an intense bout of anger. Episodes of intense anger or anxiety may lead to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, narrowing of blood vessels and increased clotting, all of which can trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers suggest working on anger management and strategies to cope with stressful situations can prevent heart attacks.  I love the Spanish word tranquilo — just saying it makes me feel calmer.

Myth or Fact?  Sex increases your risk for heart attack.

Well… Maybe! Although statistically, the risk for sex-induced heart attack is very small, it’s important to go to bed assured that your heart is healthy.  Health experts note that sex typically is not an endurance event, and as the reports, “…the most dangerous part of sex for people with pre-existing coronary artery disease — when blood and heart pressure rates rise significantly during an orgasm —— only lasts between 10-15 seconds.”

The Harvard Health Letter says that if you have a history of heart problems, as long as you are stable (and discuss this with your doctor) sex is safe in many situations, but not if you have unstable angina, worsening heart failure, or uncontrolled arrhythmia.

On the other hand, improving your stamina can improve your sex life! A JAMA study found that the chances of having a sex-related heart attack were lower in people who regularly exercised than it was among those who rarely exercised.

Oh, and a few more interesting facts. If you’ve had coronary bypass surgery, being on top carries more risk. And if you’ve had a heart attack, then afterward you’re more at risk if you have sex with an “unfamiliar person in an unfamiliar place.” quotes Dr. Elaine Steinke, who wrote the American Heart Association and the European Society of Cardiology guidelines about how to safely resume sex after a heart attack, “This is not the time to be having sex with a new partner, or in a hotel room.”

Myth or Fact? One heavy meal can trigger a heart attack.

Well… there are cases… For the average Jose or Juana, who’s in reasonably good health and not suffering from heart disease or high blood pressure, a very large, fatty and salty meal might cause indigestion and even some regret, but the health consequences won’t typically be hazardous… in the short term.

But there are cases of what you eat, how much, and when you eat can have dire effects. As reported in the Berkeley Wellness Newsletter, “One fatty meal can have a variety of immediate adverse effects, which are most risky if you already have heart disease or risk factors for it.” They detail that stiffer arteries (arteriosclerosis) reduce blood flow, and a large, high-fat meal can “impair the ability of blood vessels to dilate or expand when necessary,” leading to angina or even a heart attack.

Berkeley notes that digesting any mega meal can impact your heart, because of the increased demands from the digestive tract. A really large meal can trigger the release of norepinephrine, a stress hormone that can raise blood pressure and heart rate.

A meal that’s exceptionally high in fat or in refined carbohydrates can lead to high triglycerides, especially when accompanied by alcohol.

And of course, GERD, or gastric reflux, is often a result of very large meals, especially if you lie down soon after eating.

[ describes the Las Vegas-based Heart Attack Grill, as, “a restaurant that serves high-calorie dishes with a death wish on the side.”

The menu includes “Bypass hamburgers” including a “Single”, “Double”, “Triple”, “Quadruple”, all the way up to “Octuple” bypass hamburgers, ranging from 8 to 32 ounces (230 to 910 grams) of beef, or about 8,000 calories just for the burger.  And don’t forget the all-you-can-eat “Flatliner Fries” which they proudly cook in lard. Add mugs of sugary soda or monster 3.4 oz. shots of tequila and you’re pushing the calories north of 9,000.

From their website they proclaim, “One of the restaurants most celebrated (and widely publicized) gimmicks is the free wheelchair service provided to those “patients” who successfully finish the Quadruple Bypass Burger®. Amidst a flurry of photography from tourist bystanders, the “patients” are pushed in a wheelchair out to their cars. The media continually questions the morality of the policy of providing unlimited free food to all “patients” weighing over 350 pounds.”]

Myth or Fact? If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease or you’ve had a heart attack, you should just stop exercising.

Myth: As reported in, it depends on a person’s particular condition and needs.

Heart attack patients who have no complications, and who don’t experience chest pain or other symptoms when they walk briskly or engage in other moderate physical activity, can typically engage in sexual activity after one week.

The American Heart Association reports that heart attack survivors who are regularly physically active and make other heart-healthy changes (weight management, stress reduction, not smoking!) live longer than those who don’t. Do consult your physician and then start slowly: learn more about moderate physical activity here.

Final Fact: And as reported in, people who take good care of their hearts in their twenties have better brain health by the time they reach middle age! Exercise is a key component of heart and brain health since exercise makes the heart beat faster, increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain.


American Heart Association. Top 10 Myths about Cardiovascular Disease.

Harvard Health Letter. Don’t worry about sudden cardiac arrest during exercise.

Harvard Health Letter. Oh please, not the “sex causes heart attack” story again.

Harvard Health Letter. Resuming sex after a heart attack. 6 Surprising Heart Attack Triggers. Association of Episodic Physical and sexual activity With Triggering of Acute Cardiac Events. Sex After a Heart Attack? Here’s How and When. How Anger Causes a Heart Attack. Keep Your Heart Healthy Now and Your Brain Will Benefit Later.

Susan Burke March

Dani News

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