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When somebody wants to make you feel OK about your shitty life, they'll usually say, "At least you have your health." If you don't have that, they'll remind you of how easy modern medical advances have made your illness compared to the past. They're not wrong. Anyone who's ever had surgery should absolutely be grateful it wasn't done with a hot poker and a shot of whiskey, as it would have been years ago. But the truth is that most of us aren't exactly doctors when it comes to our knowledge of modern illness. A lot of what we know and believe about how to avoid being sick is based on old wives' tales and approximately as medically advanced as the idea that masturbation causes blindness.

For instance, you probably believe that ...

Heart Attacks Always Hurt


What You've Heard

When a character has a heart attack on TV or in a movie, he'll (they only happen to men on TV) usually clutch his chest like he's been shot and fall over dead. In more realistic shows, he might grab his shoulder, because the writers have heard that some heart attacks cause pain to radiate down your arm.

"I knew all those six-Hot-Pocket-lunches would catch up with me one day."

The point is, heart attacks clearly hurt. Some might feel like heartburn, some might feel like getting shotgunned in the chest, but as with most of death's favorite modes of operation, it makes sure you don't get out of here without some good ol' fashioned suffering.

The Reality

If your heart attack hurts, consider yourself lucky. Pain is often just the body's internal fire alarm, letting you know that you need to get something checked out before things get out of control. The scariest heart attacks are the ones that don't hurt at all. Those are the ones that can kill you before you even know you're having one. Yes, that means you could be having one right now, but we'd ask that you ignore that possibility for the time being, as it can prove distracting.

"Ignore it and keep reading Cracked" is our official advice for both major health problems and credit card debt.

Even if you're lucky enough to have your body give you a painful heads up that your heart is thinking of quitting on you, the pain rarely comes in the form you'd expect. Chest pain is only one symptom on a long list of others. Some of them, like tooth pain and "a sense of doom ... for no apparent reason" are so seemingly random that even if you did decide to call someone, it probably wouldn't be a cardiologist, and it might not even be a doctor.

"Hello, Domino's? I feel a sense of doom for no apparent reason and was hoping you could help."

Of course, that's not even the scariest scenario. That would be the SBLD (silent but literally deadly) variety: a fart-based name we just made up to distract ourselves from the horrifying reality that there's such a thing as heart attacks with no symptoms. They're real, and even worse, fairly common -- studies show that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of heart attacks go unnoticed. There's a distinct possibility that if you do have a heart attack, your first indication that anything's wrong could be when the white light blinks on at the end of the long dark hallway you were floating down.

You Need a Strong Immune System to Fight a Cold

What You've Heard

Every year, like clockwork, a cold virus shows up, and spends the better part of two weeks inventing new ways to weaponize your face holes in a war on your happiness. If we had to paint a mental picture of how a cold works, the virus gets into our bodies and starts roughing our insides up until gross things start coming out of our noses. It's basically like food poisoning for your sinuses.

"Man, I do not remember snorting that."

Luckily, there are a lot of anti-cold immune boosters out there designed to prevent that exact scenario from happening. And they must work, because they pull in as much as $100 million a year.

The Reality

You know all those godawful symptoms you soldier through for a few weeks every year? Constricted nasal passages, sore throats and dalking thike dis? Every single one of those symptoms is caused by your immune system, and not the cold virus itself. In fact, the cold virus is actually mostly harmless, except for the fact that it causes your immune system to go bananas.

"Oh, you did not just rearrange my photo frame collection. I want you out of here by midnight, mister."

What we know as the cold is actually about 200 different viruses that your body has a tendency to overreact to. Your immune system's usually an OK judge of character, but when one of these viruses shows up, your body goes into riot mode. The symptoms we associate with the cold are just your immune system flailing at a tiny virus that wasn't going to hurt you either way. So taking an immune booster is just about the opposite of what you should do, since your immune system is causing the problem and not the virus itself.

If your immune system just ignored those viruses and let them take their best shot at you, you'd be fine. We know this because approximately a quarter of the population are effectively "immune" to the cold. They never catch colds because their bodies don't freak the hell out whenever one of those 200 viruses sneaks in. Instead of waging a snot-based war on the virus, they let it hang out, and for the most part they're generally no worse for wear.

"Look, just let us hold our yearly kegger here and we'll make sure that three-day weekend happens."

Of course, neither are the people who do suffer from colds. Scientists examined the nasal cells of cold sufferers and found none of the damage you'd expect from a harmful viral infection. So essentially, even if you catch a cold, what you're experiencing is one long, miserable false alarm in which your body turns on the sprinklers and flushes everyone out of the building, just in case.

This is why cold and allergy symptoms are often hard to tell apart: They're both caused by an overactive immune system overreacting to something that's essentially harmless. So giving yourself immunity boosters is like trying to prevent a fistfight by pumping the unstable hothead full of steroids.


Unfortunately, avoiding immunity boosters is really the only thing that can save the people who are susceptible to colds, other than telling them to try to avoid all 200 of the viruses that office workers and schoolchildren are basically stewing in during the winter months. If you don't want to walk around in a hazmat suit, your only other option is to get sick 200 times. Just like with chickenpox, every time your body gets a cold, it cooks up a specially designed defense for the next time it invades. But since there are 200 different viruses that our bodies freak out about, you'll need to get over 200 colds before your body learns it's time for everybody to start acting like a couple of Fonzies and chill.

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Get Your Flu Shot and Avoid a Winter Full of Vomiting


What You've Heard

The flu is generally associated with nausea, vomiting and other digestive unpleasantness. When Michael Jordan scored 39 points while suffering from vomiting and exhaustion, the game was nicknamed "the flu game." When the first President Bush vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister in 1992, his spokesman explained that doctors were certain "That it's a simple case of the flu."

And then a cross-dresser smothered him to death by way of apology.

It's a little strange that medicines like NyQuil and DayQuil advertise themselves as "cold & flu relief." But we're not complaining. Cold and flu seasons overlap, so it works out for us that they've figured out how to treat a stuffy nose and an upset stomach with the same over-the-counter mind eraser.

The Reality

If you're experiencing stomach-related mayhem normally associated with the "stomach flu," you should know that according to people who went to medical school for seven years, the stomach flu is not actually a thing.

So stop being all dramatic.

If your stomach has ever behaved like a violent, malfunctioning compression engine, chances are it was something called gastroenteritis, which can be caused by anything from a virus to food-borne parasites. Michael Jordan didn't have the flu during the flu game. Doctors at the time diagnosed him with gastroenteritis and thought it was probably caused by food poisoning. The word "flu" was never mentioned by anyone who had been to medical school, but it became known as the flu game because that's how people have been referring to that collection of symptoms for years.

"Your toes have turned gangrenous and fallen off? That's what we doctors call 'gross.'"

This might seem like hair splitting, until you consider that we're using the same word for two deadly diseases that require completely different treatments. The real flu is primarily respiratory, and tends to feel like the cold on steroids. It can also lead to pneumonia, which can be fatal if you're in a Third World country or just have shitty health care. Meanwhile, correctly identifying gastroenteritis and treating it properly is the only surefire way to keep from shitting yourself to death. If you find yourself sliding into first when you feel something burst, and you go for the NyQuil because it says "flu" on the label, your best case scenario is green vomit that tastes like hell-flavored schnapps.

Another way that this myth bites us in our asses is with our understanding of the flu shot. People who get a flu shot and then come down with a stomach bug will assume that the flu shot didn't work. This is a scenario that's happening often enough to warrant official measures and awareness campaigns. And yet we still use the word "flu" when referring to a deadly illness that has nothing to do with the flu, because it's easier to pronounce, and because Gatorade probably couldn't have run an ad campaign on the 15th anniversary of the "vomiting with explosive diarrhea game."

"Is it in you? Soon it won't be."

You Shouldn't Let Someone Who's Had a Concussion Fall Asleep

What You've Heard

There are a few things most people know about concussions. First, when they wave a little flashlight pen in your eyes, they do something differently. Second, you might get a little sick to your stomach. If your second set of eyelids don't blink correctly and you get hit in the head so hard that your stomach gets upset, that adds up to the biggest, most important thing we all know about concussions: If you go to sleep with one, you don't wake up. That's why when Dwight smacked his head in The Office, Jim had to keep him awake by spraying him in the face with a water-filled Windex bottle. It's also why doctors have to try and evaluate the mental health of a screaming toddler because his mom kept him up for 26 hours straight after he smacked his head trying to walk down the stairs with his diaper around his ankles.

"Ah, I see the problem. This child's mother is a complete goddamn idiot."

The Reality

Concussions happen when your brain smacks against the inside of your skull. It's a pretty violent injury, and symptoms can show up immediately or weeks later. One of the primary symptoms of a concussion is fatigue. This is not your body's way of playing a cruel trick on you. Your body is experiencing fatigue in order to tell you that your brain needs rest. Rest is, in fact, one of the best possible ways to treat a concussion.

And, by that logic, concussions are one of the best ways to get your kid to sleep.

Nothing about a concussion interferes with your ability to sleep or wake up. If you know someone who banged her head and wants to take a nap, you are not helping matters and in fact are most likely making her much, much worse by keeping her awake. Presumably, this myth was started by people who are unable to differentiate between victims of head trauma and people who are black-out drunk, aka other people who are black-out drunk. The symptoms are all about the same: nausea, exhaustion and an inability to put a coherent sentence together.

But in reality, your concussed friend needs immediate medical attention, and if she's completely incoherent, your black-out drunk friend probably needs medical attention, too, or at least some Taco Bell.

And you can witness that flu/gastroenteritis thing firsthand.

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Cancer Is One Disease

What You've Heard

Google "cure for cancer." Go ahead. We'll wait. If you did it right, you'll notice that the media likes to claim that a "cure" for cancer has been found. If you prefer to get your medical insight from Outkast, you might remember when Andre 3000 rapped about the need for a "cure for cancer, cure for AIDS" in "Bombs Over Baghdad." While Andre doesn't have the medical authority of fellow rap luminary Dr. Dre, nothing seems strange about that line. Cancer and AIDS are the two most high-profile killers of our era, and medical science has taught us that if we live long enough, we'll see them both eradicated like polio.

The Reality

The idea that cancer can be cured rests on the assumption that cancer is a single disease. Most of us recognize that lung cancer is not the same as breast cancer simply because they're both in the chest, but the fact that they're both cancer seems to suggest that they're at least the same type of disease. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Which is why Andre 3000's dream of finding a single "cure for cancer" is actually impossible.

He hasn't been this disappointed since Polaroid cameras were adopted by hipsters.

This is yet another potentially deadly issue of semantics. The term "cancer" refers to over 200 completely different diseases. There are basic similarities among them and how they attack your body. They're certainly more similar to each other than they are to causes of death like heart attack or getting hit by a car. But the more we learn about cancer, the more we realize that they are, for all practical purposes, completely different diseases that require different treatments.

"See, for skin cancer, we just sigh and tilt our heads. For lung cancer, we get out the sympathetic hand puppets."

It's obvious why the people working on cancer research make it seem like it's possible to find the cancer equivalent of the polio vaccine. Funding is necessary to explore any treatment option. If they were honest and said that "Researchers May Have Discovered a Possible Lead in the Fight Against a Rare Form of Pancreatic Cancer, and It'll Be Years Before We Find Out if It Works or Not," then nobody would be very interested. "A CURE FOR CANCER HAS BEEN FOUND" is clearly the more effective attention grabber.


To see why this can be deadly, imagine two ads: one for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and one for the Cancer Fund of America. "Why just help out with one type of cancer, when I can help out all cancers?" you say, donating to the latter. What you don't know is that the former has an A+ Charity Watch rating, while the latter has an F. But the fact that there are so many charities out there organizing races for "The Cure" would suggest that the war on cancer is being funded by people whose understanding of advertising surpasses their understanding of what's actually at stake.

And some cancers hog all the publicity.

For more bullshit you probably believe, check out Your Mom Lied: 5 Common Body Myths Debunked and 6 Lies About the Human Body You Learned in Kindergarten.

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