Heart Health - keeping your heart healthy

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In many cases, heart disease is a silent killer where the first warning sign is death. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country, with more than 33,000 Canadians dying each year from heart attacks – that’s one death every seven seconds. Most of these deaths occur outside of a hospital.

Knowing your risk as well as signs and symptoms can help save your life. Learning the risk factors for heart disease and how to live a healthier lifestyle can help you keep your heart healthy.

4 risk factors you cannot change

  • Family history of heart disease or stroke (grandparents, parents, siblings).
  • Age - your risk of heart disease and stroke increases as you get older. Women over 55 who have had premature menopause and men over 45 years are at increased risk.
  • Gender - men are more likely to have heart disease at an earlier age. However, more women die from heart disease and stroke.
  • Ethnicity - Research has shown that people of South Asian descent and Aboriginal people are at greater risk of developing heart disease and stroke compared with other ethnic groups.

90 % of us, that is nine in ten Canadians, (24 million) have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Two in five have three or more of these risk factors. Many of these warning signs are silent, meaning you won’t know there’s a problem unless you have regular checkups by a doctor. How can you prevent heart disease?

8 risk factors that you can control to reduce your risk of heart disease

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • smoking 
  • stress 
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • physical inactivity
  • being overweight

10 heart-healthy steps

  1. Eat 5 servings of vegetables and fruit a day
  2. Be smoke-free.
  3. Be physically active. Aim for 30-60 minutes per day
  4. Know and control your blood pressure.
  5. Know and control your blood sugar, if you are diabetic.
  6. Manage your cholesterol by eating a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fat.
  7. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  8. Limit alcohol use.
  9. Reduce stress.
  10. Visit your doctor regularly and follow your doctor’s advice.

Warning Signs

  • Spreading pain which may spread out:
    • from the chest area
    • down one or both arms
    • up to the neck, jaw or in between shoulder blade
  • Shortness of breath
  • Paleness, sweating or overall weakness
  • Nausea, vomiting and maybe indigestion
  • Anxiety or fear

If you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Act right away
  • Tell someone
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number to get help right away

Half of heart attack deaths happen within two hours of the first signs. The faster you get help, the better your chances of surviving a heart attack. New therapies (including drugs) can reduce the damage and save lives, if treatment begins soon enough. Don't worry that your signs may end up being a false alarm or a sign of some other condition. Not getting help could cost you your life.

Women

Women are more likely to feel a vague chest discomfort, and not a sharp pain or tightness. Yet the attack may be more severe than it is with men. Symptoms of a heart attack should be taken seriously. Women are usually older when they have their first heart attack.

There is a higher risk of heart disease for women who:

  • Smoke
  • Take birth control pills
  • Have gone through menopause

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