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March 16, 2019 • read
Heart health tips
Heart disease is the second leading cause of death for Canadians. But according to the Canadian Heart and Stroke foundation, eight out of ten cases of heart disease are preventable. There are many ways to keep your heart healthy through changes to lifestyle and diet. So let’s take a look at some of the symptoms and causes of heart disease and what we can do to protect ourselves from it.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease isn’t just one thing. We might think of a heart attack and heart disease as being synonymous, but they’re not. Heart disease is actually a cluster of different conditions that affect the way the heart functions. Heart disease can include everything from hardening of the arteries, to heart arrhythmias, which is when the heart beats too quickly or too slowly. It also includes heart failure which is usually caused by a heart attack or high blood pressure.
There is a long list of factors that increase the risk of getting heart disease. These extend from factors that may be part of our genetic inheritance, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or a family history of heart disease, to “lifestyle factors” such as smoking, being obese, drinking too much, having a poor diet, and not getting enough physical activity. While we can’t do anything to change our genes (not yet anyway), making changes that address the other risk factors can help to prevent heart disease.
What are the symptoms of heart disease?
Paying attention to early signs of heart disease can set you up to prevent a heart attack before it starts. A helpful acronym for remembering them is FACES, or:
Fatigue — feeling unusually tired.
Activities limited — having difficulty doing your usual activities.
Chest congestion — including coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
Edema — this is the medical term for swelling and usually happens in the feet, ankles and lower body.
Shortness of breath — this symptom on its own is usually a cause for concern.
Signs of heart attack in men
Heart attacks are often depicted as dramatic, impossible-to-ignore events. But while that is true in some cases, sometimes signs of heart problems can be quite subtle. Heart attacks can also look different in men and women. In men, you’ll usually see the signs broadly associated with heart attack, like chest pain and pain in the shoulders, arms, jaw or back. Other common symptoms include sweating, feeling nauseated and becoming lightheaded or short of breath.
Signs of heart attack in women
Women can often have a heart attack without the “typical” feelings of pressure in their chests. Because of that, more than half the women who have a heart attack don’t recognize that they’re having one. They may ignore feelings like pain in the upper abdomen and lower chest or pressure in their upper back that signal it. They may also experience shortness of breath and feelings of exhaustion and lightheadedness.
Heart disease in women
Though second in Canada, heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide. Overall it kills more women than men.
Women have the same risk of developing heart disease as men when it comes to the factors mentioned above. But women face additional factors unique to them. For women, the hormone estrogen has a protective effect against heart disease early on in life. After menopause, however, as estrogen levels decrease, some may elect to use estrogen in hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Estrogen in this form actually increases the risk of heart disease. And while the birth control pill is generally safe, for those women who are over 40 who smoke and are overweight, taking the birth control pill can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Certain conditions developed during pregnancy can also contribute to an increase risk.
Treatment for heart disease
Medication is usually the first line of defence when addressing heart disease or recovering from a heart attack. Surgery might be recommended as well. But there are also ways to improve your heart health naturally. Learning how to eat for your heart is a central part of it. As you’ll know from our previous blog on organic food, a diet high in fruit and vegetables reduces your risk of developing heart disease. This makes them a crucial part of the foods you should eat to prevent heart disease.
How to make your heart strong and healthy naturally
Learning how to keep your heart healthy and strong might be a major lifestyle change, but the effects will be worth it! As mentioned, there are many foods that can help to keep your heart healthy, but incorporating exercise into your daily routine is also essential. Thirty minutes a day for at least five days a week can seem daunting, but it can be as easy as a couple of laps around the block with the dog. If you’re aiming to get your heart rate up with a brisk walk, you should consult your doctor first if you have any concerns or a history of heart attack or heart disease. And while most of us already know how bad smoking is, it bears repeating that quitting smoking, or not starting in the first place, is one of the best things we can do for our heart.
Heart disease is preventable for many of us. Exercising, eating right, and watching alcohol and tobacco intake can get us most of the way there. Those at higher risk should discuss additional preventative measures with their doctors. Although heart disease kills many Canadians each year, with education and the right lifestyle changes, it doesn’t have to.