Dr. Asghar Naqvi, a primary care physician at Ochsner Health Center – Zachary, wants residents to know the truth about cardiovascular disease.

“There are a number of popular beliefs about cardiovascular disease that are really misleading. They’re either untrue or only partly true. We want people to know the real story,” he said.

Misconceptions about heart disease have been around a long time and believing them could put heart health at risk. Naqvi says it’s time to put these six enduring myths to rest.

Myth 1: I don’t have to worry about heart disease until I’m older.

Truth: The risk of heart disease increases with age, but younger people are affected. Blockages in heart arteries develop over many years until symptoms or heart attacks develop in middle age. The time to make an impact is while young, before blockage has developed. Rising obesity rates mean people are developing heart disease sooner than ever before. In fact, obese women develop heart disease 4.3 years earlier on average than their average-weight counterparts. Leading an unhealthy lifestyle, having diabetes or being born with a heart condition also puts a person at risk, as can the combination of birth control pills and smoking in younger women.

Myth 2: Heart disease affects more men than women.

Truth: Many people still mistakenly think of heart disease as a man’s disease. Heart disease kills more women than men, albeit at later ages. Women receive some protection against heart disease from estrogen in premenopausal years, but after that, their risk is about the same as a man’s.

Myth 3: If I had heart disease, I’d know.

Truth: You can’t feel it when your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are elevated. Often, the first sign of a heart problem is heart failure or a heart attack. Approximately every 30 seconds, an American has a heart attack. Heart disease must be diagnosed by a physician, which is why it’s so important to get your numbers checked regularly.

Myth 4: If I’m not having chest pain, it’s not a heart attack.

Truth: Chest pain may be the most common symptom of a heart attack, but it’s far from the only one. Many women in particular have heart attacks without having chest pain at all. Be on the lookout for shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain, dizziness or fainting, pain in the upper abdomen and extreme fatigue. Discuss changes and symptoms with your physician for a proper diagnosis.

Myth 5: Being on heart medication means I can eat whatever I want.

Truth: Medication can only do so much. Taking cholesterol meds does not give you carte blanche to eat foods high in saturated and trans fats. Doing so can render the medication ineffective. The same goes for taking medication to treat hypertension and diabetes. Dietary changes are needed to have a true effect on the numbers.

Myth 6: It’s dangerous to exercise after a heart attack.

Truth: Exercise is essential to recovering after a heart event. People who engage in regular physical activity and make other heart-healthy changes after a heart attack live longer than those who don’t. Under the guidance of a cardiac rehabilitation program, people should return to physical activity as soon as possible.

For information or to schedule an appointment with Naqvi or any Ochsner practitioner, call (225) 761-5200 or schedule online at www.ochsner.org/info.