Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada and includes coronary heart disease, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), congenital heart defects and blood vessel diseases. Research suggests 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. As sad as those statistics are, taking preventative measures now can help to decrease your chances of heart disease. Here we answer the most commonly asked questions about heart disease.
What are the warning signs of heart disease?
Warning signs can vary from person-to-person and for men and women. Typically, men are more likely to have chest pain, whereas women are more likely to have other symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue. Most common symptoms of heart disease include, but are not limited to:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Narrow blood vessels can lead to pain and numbness in arms and/or legs
- Irregular heartbeats
- Swelling in hands and feet
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away. Ignoring symptoms can increase your chances of heart disease.
Does being overweight increase your chances of heart disease?
In general, being overweight can cause a slew of health issues, including heart disease. Being overweight also can increase the risk of heart disease due to high blood pressure and/or diabetes. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and limiting your red meat intake can decrease your chances of heart disease. As well, incorporating regular exercise into your daily life can improve your general overall health and lower the risk for 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 Stress Cause Heart Disease?
When your body experiences stress, it goes into “fight or flight mode” and your blood pressure begins to rise. This is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival. During episodes of extreme or chronic stress, our bodies can be so greatly affected that we can’t eat, sleep or think clearly. In certain cases, sudden and extreme stress brought on by trauma, for example, can lead to a person having heart attack. Chronic stress may cause some people to drink too much alcohol, which can increase blood pressure and may damage the artery walls. Doctors agree that managing stress is good for your overall health and can decrease your chances of having high blood pressure, a contributing factor to heart health issues.
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 Foundation 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 by making healthy lifestyle choices.