Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death and disability in Canada. While, these diseases represent a serious health concern for both men and women, traditionally they have been viewed as diseases that impact men.

However, the truth is women are more likely to die of heart attack or stroke than men. In fact, stroke kills 45 per cent more women than men and women are 16 per cent more likely to die after a heart attack.

While there are a number of reasons as to why women have become the new face of heart disease and stroke, lack of awareness remains a key challenge. Only one in eight women is aware that these diseases represent their biggest health concern. This statistic is the reason why the Heart Truth Campaign was launched by the Heart and Stroke Foundation nationally.

The goal of this campaign is to encourage women to learn more about their risks and about what they can do to protect their health. That’s my goal too. And, it’s the reason why I recently agreed to work with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia to promote these important messages.

The truth is that even though heart disease and stroke are different diseases, many of the basic causes and risk factors are the same. Your family medical history can tell you a great deal about your risk and so can knowing your health profile. For example, regularly checking on your blood pressure and monitoring your cholesterol levels provide important pieces of information that can mean the difference between being healthy and being susceptible.

Paying attention to your stress level, monitoring how you are feeling, and regular medical check ups are essential to a healthy future. Equally important are the ways you manage your risk factors. Regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and reducing your exposure to second hand smoke can help reduce your risk significantly.

Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts, heart attacks and strokes do occur. If this happens to you, knowing the signs and signals and taking action is your best chance for survival – and for a positive recovery. While no situation is the same, there are some common themes that create problems for women who are experiencing a heart attack.

For example, although women experience similar symptoms of a heart attack as men, women are less likely to believe they are having a heart attack and often put off seeking treatment.

Women also typically experience heart attack symptoms that are less definite than men. For example, chest discomfort rather than pain is common in women experiencing a heart attack. This can create confusion and lead a patient to incorrectly assume her discomfort will go away with rest. The choice to wait may lead to negative and often fatal consequences. Every minute counts.

The five warning signs of a heart attack are one or more of the following:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain in the arm, neck, jaw, shoulder or back
  • Nausea, indigestion or vomiting
  • Sweating and/or cool, clammy skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fear or anxiety

Sudden discomfort or pain in these areas that does not go away with rest may signal a heart attack. It can feel like burning, squeezing, heaviness, tightness or pressure.

The five warning signs of stroke include

  • Sudden: Weakness or numbness
  • Sudden: Loss of muscle strength in face, arm or leg
  • Sudden: Trouble speaking
  • Sudden: Vision problems
  • Sudden: Severe headache
  • Sudden: Dizziness

If you are experiencing these symptoms, don’t wait. Get medical help right away.

Knowledge is an essential ingredient to becoming and remaining healthy. Visit the Heart Truth website (www.hearttruth.ca) and commit to learning more, to spreading the message, and to taking action. Your health may depend on it.

Heart and Stroke Foundation
The Heart Truth Campaign

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