Are you at risk for Heart Disease?


Heart disease and stroke is the number on cause of death for adults in Canada. 


About every seven minutes someone in dies from Cardiovascular disease.  It’s also the leading cause of hospitalization for Canadians.


With all the information available sometimes the facts about risk, prevention and presentation of CVD can get confusing. 


These questions will address some of the most common misconceptions to help you get the facts.


Question 1 – Is Cardiovascular disease more a man’s problem?


Statistics show that many women have at least one heart disease or stroke risk factor. At increased risk are menopausal women and those with diabetes.


Question 2 – Should I take an Aspirin a day to help support my heart health?


Surprisingly taking even a baby aspirin a day might do more harm than good for some people.  The issue is with Primary prevention (preventing a first event) versus Secondary prevention (preventing a second or subsequent event).  Using low dose Aspirin has a good record in secondary prevention but when it comes to primary prevention the evidence is less consistent and there is a well-known increased risk of serious gastrointestinal bleeding with long-term use.


Question 3 – Can only people with high blood pressure of cholesterol have symptoms?


Unfortunately, in most cases, these conditions have no symptoms. They are only discovered when checked. Many with high blood pressure or cholesterol have no idea and both of these are important risk factors for CVD.


Question 4 – A heart attacks always starts with severe chest pain?


Although this is the most common symptom of heart attack it’s not always present or it can be very mild and feel more like pressure. A heart attack may not look or feel like you might expect but there are other common symptoms to watch for including:


Ø  Nausea


Ø  Sweating


Ø  Dizziness


Ø  Shortness of breath, jaw, arm, back, neck or shoulder pain


Question 5 – If heart disease runs in my family will I also get it?


Genetics do play a role but are not the whole story.  Diet, lifestyle and environment and hereditary traits have a big impact on how our genes are expressed. So having a family history doesn’t mean you’re absolutely fated to suffer heart disease but it does mean you need to be more vigilant when it comes to lifestyle and nutrition risk factors. 


Question 6 – Are younger men and women at risk?


Although those over the age of 50 are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease young people can be at risk depending on their situation.  Here are some risk factors:


Ø  Use of birth control pills – may increase risk of blood clots or high blood pressure for those with HBP already or if you smoke.


Ø  Pregnancy – can increase risk of high blood pressure for some.  These are more prevalent for those who already have HBP, were obese before pregnancy, have diabetes or history of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. 


Ø  Lifestyle and dietary choices – made earlier in life can have a major impact on heart health later on.  So men and women should be conscious of how their choices now will affect their heart health down the road.


Ø  Belly fat – matters when determining your heart disease risk and abdominal obesity could be a greater risk factor than overall obesity.


Ø  Fitness – keeping fit decreases your risk of heart disease.  By improving your physical fitness, you can effectively:


·       Lower your triglyceride levels


·       Increase your levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL)


·       Lower your blood glucose levels


·       Normalize your insulin levels


Question 7 – If I eat a low-fat diet will I be safe from heart disease?


What’s more important is the type of fat consumed as well as other nutrients being used in place of fat.  There are three main types of fats to consider: saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. 


Saturated fats are an important part of the diet and we need them.  The problem is many of us consume too much, too often.


Question 8 – Is eating eggs, which are high in cholesterol, bad for heart      health?


A 2013 review of 16 separate studies found there was no increased risk of heart disease.  However, since diabetics are already at higher risk of CVD consumption should be moderated.  This review shows that a sensible intake of free-range eggs is fine for almost all healthy people.


Question 9 – If you have heart disease should you avoid exercise?


Exercise is health promoting for pretty much anyone.  We are designed to move and the list of health benefits is long.  More than 300 studies found that exercise is as, good as if not better than, current drug treatments for preventing second episodes, recovering after stroke and preventing diabetes. 


Question 10 – If you’re not overweight can you still develop heart disease?


Although obesity is a major risk factor people of any shape and size can be at risk for heart disease.  Stress, smoking and lack of exercise can all increase the risk regardless of body weight.




Many key factors that increase heart attack and stroke risk are changeable to produce a significant decrease in overall risk.  


















Adapted from Alive magazine February 2014 issue. Serenity Aberdour, ND

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