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Heart Health

Heart Disease

What is heart disease?

Your heart is a muscle that gets energy from blood carrying oxygen and nutrients. Having a constant supply of blood keeps your heart working properly. Most people think of heart disease as one condition. But in fact, heart disease is a group of conditions affecting the structure and functions of the heart and has many root causes. Coronary artery disease, for example, develops when a combination of fatty materials, calcium, and scar tissue (called plaque) builds up in the arteries that supply blood to your heart (coronary arteries). The plaque buildup narrows the arteries and prevents the heart from getting enough blood.

How can I prevent heart disease?

Heart disease is preventable and manageable. Your best defence is controlling the risk factors that could lead to coronary artery disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and being overweight. If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, there are treatments to help you manage your illness.

You can further reduce your risk by considering these heart-healthy steps:

  • Be smoke-free.

  • Be physically active.

  • Know and control your blood pressure.

  • Eat a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fat.

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Manage your diabetes.

  • Limit alcohol use.

  • Reduce stress.

Visit your doctor regularly and follow your doctor’s advice.

Signs of a heart attack

1. Chest discomfort – uncomfortable chest pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning or heaviness

2. Sweating

3. Upper body discomfort – neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, back

4. Nausea

5. Shortness of breath

6. Light-headedness

Please note: Signs can vary from person to person and may be different for men and women.

Experiencing signs of a heart attack?

1. Call 9-1-1 – Or your local emergency number Immediately. Emergency personnel can start treatment enroute to the hospital.

2. Stop all activity Sit or lie down, in whatever position is most comfortable.

3. Take your nitroglycerin If you take nitroglycerin, take your normal dosage.

4. Take Aspirin ® Chew and swallow an Aspirin® (ASA), if you are not allergic or intolerant (either one 325 mg tablet or two 81 mg tablets).

5. Rest and wait Stay calm while waiting for help to arrive.

6. Keep a list of your medications in your wallet and by the phone. Emergency personnel will want this information.


What is stroke?

A stroke happens when blood stops flowing to any part of your brain, damaging brain cells. The effects of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that was damaged and the amount of damage done.

How the brain works

The brain is the control center of your body. It controls how you think, feel, communicate and move. Knowing how your brain works can help you understand your stroke.

Types of stroke

The effects of your stroke depend on the type of stroke, the part of the brain that was damaged and the amount of damage.

Hemorrhagic stroke

Caused when an artery in the brain breaks open. The interrupted blood flow causes damage to your brain. High blood pressure weakens arteries over time and is a major cause of hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic stroke

Caused by a blockage or clot in a blood vessel in your brain. The blockage can be caused when a substance called plaque builds up on the inside wall of an artery.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

Caused by a small clot that briefly blocks an artery. It is sometimes called a mini-stroke or warning stroke. No lasting damage occurs, but TIAs are an important warning that a more serious stroke may occur soon

Signs of Stroke

FACE – Is it drooping?

ARMS – Can you raise both?

SPEECH – Is it slurred or jumbled?

TIME – Time to call 911 right away.

Stroke is a medical emergency. If you experience any of these signs, call 9-1-1. Do not drive to the hospital. An ambulance will get you to the best hospital for stroke care.

Risk Factors

Lifestyle Risks

Small, healthy changes in your daily routine can decrease your risk for another stroke. Making changes is always challenging.

Your healthcare team can help you figure out what risk factors you should focus on first and set goals that you can reach.

Don’t try to change yourself overnight. Start with something that is relatively easy and build on your successes.

Unhealthy weight

Increased weight can lead to high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for stroke. By achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and waist, you can significantly reduce your risk.

Unhealthy diet

The foods you eat affect your health. Small healthy changes in your daily routine can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Not enough exercise

People who are NOT active have double the risk of heart disease and stroke as well as increased risk of diabetes, cancer and dementia. Being active helps your heart, brain, muscles, bones and mood. Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health. No matter what your state of health, there is something you can do to stay active.

Smoking (tobacco misuse)

Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke increase the risk of stroke. Quitting is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of another stroke. You might be afraid that quitting will be too hard, but there is lots of help available to you when you are ready.

Too much alcohol

Heavy drinking and binge drinking are risk factors for high blood pressure & stroke. Alcohol may also cause problems by interacting with your medications.

Recreational drug use

Recreational drug use increases your risk of stroke.

Birth control and hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Medications that contain estrogen – the female hormone – increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and mini-stroke (TIA). Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (usually prescribed for the symptoms of menopause) and many birth control pills contain estrogen.  If you take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, discuss the benefits and risk with your healthcare professional.


We know that some people who have high levels of stress or prolonged stress have higher cholesterol or blood pressure. They may be more prone to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), a stroke risk factor.

Medical Conditions that are Risk Factors

Some medical conditions increase the risk of heart disease & stroke, but you can manage them with medication, treatment and by making healthy choices. The more risk factors you have the greater your risk.

Blood Pressure

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – affects one in five Canadians. It is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease, so it is very important that it is properly controlled. High blood pressure is often called a “silent killer” because it has no warning signs or symptoms.


High blood cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for heart disease. As your blood cholesterol rises, so does your risk of heart disease.


Diabetes can affect your blood vessels and in turn increase blood pressure. Diabetes also increases the chance of plaque forming in your blood vessels.


Women who have had preeclampsia during pregnancy have an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Risk Factors You Cannot Control

While there are some risk factors for heart disease you can do something about, there are others that you cannot control. The major risk factors that you cannot change are:


The risk of coronary artery disease rises in men after the age of 45 and in women after the age of 55.


Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 – or postmenopausal women – are at greater risk of heart disease.

Family and Medical History

Your risk of heart disease is higher if a close male relative had heart disease before 55 years of age or if a close female relative had heart disease before menopause. Women who have had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy have an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Indigenous Heritage

First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples have a higher risk of heart disease. This is because they are more likely to have high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes. Both conditions can cause heart disease.

African and South Asian Heritage

People of African or South Asian background also have a higher risk of coronary artery disease. This is because they are more likely to have high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease at a younger age.

Prevention is key

Prevention starts with knowing your risk. Nine in ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for stroke or heart disease. Almost 80% of premature stroke and heart disease can be prevented through healthy behaviours. That means that habits like eating healthy, being active and living smoke-free, have a big impact on your health.

Develop habits that will reduce your risk. Pick a goal that is important to you. Tackle one step at a time.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating lots of veggies, cooking at home, limiting processed foods…these are all habits that protect your health.

Stay active

Move more. Walk, rake leaves, play a sport. Find ways to be active in your daily life.

Reduce stress

Know what stresses you out. Find your coping method.Get rid of stress daily.

Maintain a healthy weight

Achieving a healthy weight is an important step in promoting your heart and brain health, and it isn’t easy. Weight loss is a challenging goal and should be met with a positive attitude and patience.

1 Comment

It's not simple to reach a healthy weight, but doing so is a crucial first step in supporting heart and brain health. Losing weight is space bar clicker a difficult objective that needs to be approached patiently and with optimism.


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