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Understanding Heart Disease in Canada

February 16, 2015

Next to cancer, heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. In 2008, heart disease was a factor in more than 20 per cent of all deaths in Canada. Does this statistic surprise you?


Here are other statistics about heart disease that you may not know:

  • Nine out of 10 adults have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • In 2007, heart disease was the culprit of 21.5 per cent of deaths in Canada.
  • “Every seven minutes in Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke.”
  • Canadians are overly-confident about their health. While 90 percent of Canadians claim to be ‘healthy’, only half of the Canadian population meets the “physical activity and healthy eating recommendations.”

While Canada’s statistics concerning heart disease can seem daunting, this week, in honour of Heart and Stroke Foundation Canada’s Heart Month, we are discussing ways to prevent stroke and heart disease. The first step to prevention is to understand heart disease better.

We hear about heart disease often, but do we really know what it is? It is important to get educated about heart disease.

What Is Heart Disease?

A plaque build-up in the heart’s arteries can cause heart disease. This “hardening of the arteries” can decrease blood flow to the heart, resulting in all kinds of problems. Heart disease is basically a blanket term that can refer to several different diseases of the heart. Such diseases include coronary artery disease, heart defects, arrhythmias, and heart infections.

At times ‘cardiovascular disease’ may be used interchangeably with ‘heart disease’. Cardiovascular disease “involves narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack.”

What Risk Factors are involved with Heart Disease?

  • High blood-pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Substance abuse
  • General aging
  • Genetics (family history of heart disease)
  • Race
  • Kidney disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity

Another risk factor for heart disease is gender. Women who have regular menstrual cycles have a lower risk of developing heart disease than men do. After menopause, however, women have a higher risk for developing heart disease.

What Causes Heart Disease?

A number of factors contribute to heart disease. In fact, sometimes combinations of the following are largely to blame for death and raising the risk of stroke:

  • Smoking
  • Eating Habits
  • Physical Activity
  • Stress
  • Genetics
  • Being overweight

In addition to causing strokes, these factors also lead to high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. However, some improvements to one’s lifestyle can decrease chances of experiencing stroke.

What Are The Warning Signs Of Heart Disease?

  • Fatigue and shortness of breath that accompany physical exertion
  • Chest pain (Note: “It may feel heavy or like someone is squeezing your heart. You feel it under your breast bone (sternum), but also in your neck, arms, stomach, or upper back”)

If you are female, have diabetes, or are elderly, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

Minimize Your Risk of Developing Heart Disease

Here are some ways to minimize the chance of heart disease and stroke:

  • Don’t smoke! Blood pressure rises with each cigarette smoked. It also hardens arteries which raises risk of heart problems.
  • Everyone has control over their blood pressure. This is good news because it is the most important controllable risk factor. Check for healthy blood pressure on a regular basis learn about ways to keep your heart healthy.
  • If a family has history of high blood pressure, be conscious of eating habits, stay educated and research helpful medications.
  • Keep up with a diet that is high in fibre, low in salt and low saturated fat. Too much salt causes the body to retain water. This increases blood pressure.
  • Try to avoid fast food and convenient foods, like canned soup. These often contain high levels of salt. Also be sure to avoid smoked, cured or corned meats. A helpful way to know more about healthy eating is to read the labels on food products.
  • Decrease intake of animal and dairy fat. Instead, increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Stay active with physical exercise to prevent high blood pressure. Starting an exercise routine can start slow and build with time.
  • Consuming more than two alcoholic drinks a day can increase blood pressure and the risk of a stroke.
  • Many common over-the-counter remedies can increase blood pressure. Read labels carefully and tell your doctor and pharmacist about any medication you are taking.

For more information about healthy heart habits consult a trusted physician or other reputable resources.

Thinking Twice About Heart Disease

If you are curious to understand how likely you are to develop heart disease, see your doctor and discuss your concerns with him or her. There are a variety of tests you can request that may help your doctor diagnose you. To learn more, click here and scroll down to the section titled Exams and Tests to learn more.

We can’t fight heart disease if we don’t understand it. Heart disease education is important for all of us. Get involved with Heart and Stroke Foundation Canada’s Heart Month. Make this an opportunity to learn more and take steps to protect your heart.

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