Heart Disease

Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort.

Also called ischemic heart disease, coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease is a serious condition in which a sticky, waxy substance called plaque slowly builds up in the arteries of the heart, narrowing and hardening them (atherosclerosis).

If the plaque ruptures, the body tries to repair it by creating a blood clot. The clot can become large enough to partly or completely block blood flow, depriving heart tissue of oxygen and causing a heart attack.

A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you think someone may be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 right away.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Pressure, tightness, fullness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in the chest or arms that may spread to the neck, jaw or back
  • Nausea, heartburn, indigestion or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath, with or without discomfort in the chest
  • Cold sweat
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
  • Fatigue

Symptoms vary in type and severity from person to person. In both men and women, the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort, but women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, or extreme fatigue.

Risk factors for heart disease and stroke

Heart disease and stroke share many of the same risk factors. There are two types of risk factors: those we can’t change (non-modifiable) and those we can change (modifiable). According to Heart & Stroke, eight out of 10 cases of premature heart disease and stroke are preventable with healthy lifestyle behaviours.

Non-modifiable risk factors:

  • Family history: Your heart disease risk is higher if immediate family members (parents, siblings) have had a heart attack, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Your stroke risk is higher if any immediate family members had a stroke before age 65.
  • Age: The risk of both heart disease and stroke increases with age. For heart disease, the risk increases for men who are over 45 and women who are over 55 or who have gone through menopause. Two-thirds of strokes happen in people over age 65.

Modifiable risk factors:

  • Smoking: Smoking (or long-term exposure to second-hand smoke) significantly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. (Access free quit-smoking resources)
  • High blood pressure: About one in five Canadians lives with high blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage the heart’s arteries and speed up atherosclerosis.
  • High blood cholesterol: “Bad cholesterol” (LDL) contributes to narrowing of the arteries, which raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. A high level of “good” (HDL) cholesterol in the blood lowers your risk.
  • Being overweight or obese: Carrying too much weight raises your risk of several diseases, including heart disease and stroke.
  • Lack of exercise: You can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by exercising regularly. (Learn more about Canada’s physical activity guidelines.)
  • Eating an unhealthy diet: Aim for a diet low in saturated fat, trans fats, sodium and cholesterol, and high in fruits and vegetables. (Learn about healthy eating with Canada’s food guides.)
  • Stress: High levels of stress or prolonged stress can contribute to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Other illnesses: Diabetes and autoimmune illnesses (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis) can increase your risk of heart attack. It’s important to effectively manage health conditions.

Bayshore is pleased to provide health information to our clients and their families and caregivers. This information is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. For more information on heart and stroke, please consult your doctor.

Additional Resources

Heart & Stroke
This  Canadian organization works to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery through research, health promotion, and public policy. Its website offers health information, including ideas for positive lifestyle changes.

Hypertension Canada
This national non-profit organization is dedicated to the prevention and control of hypertension (high blood pressure) and its complications. Its website provides tips for preventing hypertension.

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