Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. Data from the Public Health Agency of Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System indicates that approximately 2.4 million Canadians age 20 and over live with diagnosed heart disease and that every hour, about twelve Canadians age 20 and over die with diagnosed heart disease. Here we answer the top 5 questions about heart disease.
Is heart disease hereditary?
Heart disease is quite simply a term used to describe a heart that isn’t working properly. Heart disease can be diagnosed at birth (congenital heart defect) or later in life. And because family members share genes and often the same behaviours, lifestyles and environments, this can influence an individual’s health and risk for disease. Genetics also can play a big part in heart disease, however, typically the environment an individual grows up can contribute as well. For example, if an individual grows up with parents that smoked cigarettes, chances are, they were exposed to second hand smoke, which can increase the chances of heart disease. And, if an individual grew up with a family that ate an unhealthy diet, chances are, they too would develop unhealthy eating habits later in life. Risk of heart disease also can increase depending on your age, race and ethnicity.
Can heart disease be cured?
If you are diagnosed with heart disease, it’s important to follow your doctor’s orders. This may include an immediate change in lifestyle and diet. Having high blood pressure and eating foods high in cholesterol can contribute to heart disease. Your doctor will recommend cutting back on high cholesterol, high sodium foods and he/she also will likely put you on heart medication to help alleviate symptoms. Cardiac rehabilitation can also improve your condition is it involves levels of monitored exercise, nutritional counseling, emotional support and support and education about lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of heart problems.
Is heart disease preventable?
In short, yes. Making smart lifestyle choices can decrease your chances of getting heart disease. Eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, having high blood pressure and not exercising enough can all contribute to heart disease. As well, stress and depression can also increase your chances of heart disease. If you suffer from any of these, it’s important to address them now. Talk to a health care professional and get the support and education you need to make a lifestyle change. It could literally save your life.
The Heart and Stroke Foundations promotes that prevention starts with knowing your risk. Nine in ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Almost 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy behaviours.
Will I know if I have heart disease?
Understanding the signs and symptoms of heart disease is important to increase your chances of survival and receive treatment early. If you experience chest pains, shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling in your legs or feet, or dizziness and lightheadedness, seek medical treatment immediately. If you’ve already been diagnosed with heart disease and you knowingly continue to make unhealthy lifestyle choices, understand that your condition will likely worsen over time, if not sooner.
How does heart disease affect me?
If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor will explain what your limitations are, if any. Naturally, you might be hesitant to engage in physical activity, however, the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends 30 minutes of regular, moderate activity such as walking, to keep the heart healthy.
When it comes to limitations, this is particularly important after a heart disease diagnosis. Limit your sodium, alcohol and caffeine intake and quit smoking, if you’re a smoker. Some of these things may seem impossible to give up, but it’s important to evaluate the risk involved if you don’t. Living with heart isn’t necessarily a death sentence. Be proactive and make the changes that are within your control to make. Don’t “live” heart disease, live “healthy!”
If your family has a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure, understand what you can do now as a preventative measure. The Heart & Stroke Foundation confirms that heart disease can be prevented. Incorporating low sodium, whole foods in your diet and staying active all contribute to a healthy heart. Regular check ups with your doctor is also good practice as is knowing the signs of heart disease. As with many illnesses, early detection and treatment are crucial.
Heart disease is serious and can lead to death. Prevention is key and is in your control. Making small lifestyle changes now can decrease your chances of heart disease. Simple steps like eating better, sleeping and exercising more are all things that we can do to lead a heart healthy lifestyle.