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 February is Heart Month in Canada

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada. One in every four Canadians who experience a heart attack die because they do not get medical treatment quickly enough. It is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and learn about ways to prevent it from happening to you or your loved ones.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when one or more of your coronary arteries become blocked. The most common cause of this is a narrowing of the arteries due to the build up of plaque. These plaques can rupture and cause a blood clot to form, which blocks the flow of blood to part of the heart muscle. Without blood flow, the affected area does not receive oxygen and causes permanent damage.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack

Signs and symptoms that you are having a heart attack can be any or all of the following:

1. Sudden discomfort or pain that does not go away with rest
2. Pain that may be in the chest, neck, jaw, shoulder, arms or back
3. Pain that may feel like burning, squeezing, heaviness, tightness or pressure
4. In women, pain may be more vague
5. Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
6. Nausea, vomiting, indigestion
7. Sweating, cool clammy skin
8. Fear, anxiety, denial

What to do if you are experiencing a heart attack

If you are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, you should:

1. CALL 911 or have someone call for you.
2. Stop all activity and sit or lie down, in whatever position is most comfortable.
3. If you take nitroglycerin (nitro spray), take your normal dosage.
4. If you are experiencing chest pain, chew and swallow one adult Aspirin or two baby Aspirins.
5. Rest comfortably and wait for an ambulance with emergency medical personnel to arrive. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
6. If you receive the appropriate treatment within one hour of experiencing these signals, then the effects can be stopped or the damage can be reduced. This is why it is very important that you call or have someone call 911 when you are having a heart attack.

It is important to note that the best treatment of a heart attack is preventing it from happening in the first place. There are a few factors that are not in your control; however, there are many changes that you can make in your life that will reduce your risk of heart disease.

Risk factors you CAN’T control

1. Age: over 45
2. Gender: Generally men are more at risk, and women equally after menopause
3. Family history
4. Race: First Nations, African, South Asian descent
5. History of stroke or mini-strokes (TIAs)

Risk Factors You CAN Control

1. Smoking
2. Physical inactivity
3. High blood pressure
4. High blood cholesterol
5. Being overweight
6. Diabetes or blood sugar levels
7. Excessive alcohol consumption
8. Stress

If you feel that you may be at risk, see your doctor or other health care professional that can help you make the necessary lifestyle changes. For more information and heart healthy tips visit

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada:
Statistics Canada, Causes of Death 2004. Released 2006.

Adrian Salonga is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor’s degree of Medical Rehabilitation in Physical Therapy.

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