Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada and is a leading cause of hospitalization. In fact, about 1 in every 12 (or 2.6 million) Canadians aged 20 years and over live with diagnosed heart disease. However, early detection and management of conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Types of heart disease
There are many different types of heart disease, and they can be grouped into categories depending on how they affect the structure or function of the heart. For example:
- Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that makes the heart weaker and unable to pump blood through the body properly or maintain a normal rhythm. It can cause a variety of symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting, and swelling of the legs or ankles. As the condition worsens, it can lead to other problems such as irregular heartbeat, heart failure, stroke, cardiac arrest (the sudden loss of heart function), and heart valve disease.
- Congenital heart disease refers to a heart condition that is present from birth. These heart defects can range from mild (a small hole in the heart) to severe (such as parts of the heart being poorly formed or even completely missing). These defects can affect how blood flows through the heart and into the rest of the body. The symptoms someone experiences will depend on the specific type of heart defect that person has.
- Heart failure happens when the heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. As a result, the rest of the body doesn’t get enough blood. This can lead to a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, weakness, irregular heartbeat, wheezing, swelling in the belly area or in the legs and feet, rapid weight gain due to fluid buildup, chest pain, and trouble concentrating or decreased alertness. Complications of heart failure may include blood clots that can lead to a stroke, breathing difficulties, impaired liver or kidney function, and loss of muscle tissue.
- Ischemic heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is the most common form of heart disease. It is due to an inadequate blood supply to the heart resulting from a blockage of the vessels that supply blood to the heart. Some people experience no symptoms, but when symptoms do occur, they may include fatigue, a fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, sweating, and pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, or arm. This condition can lead to serious complications including irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, and heart attack.
- Peripheral vascular disease, which affects blood vessels that are not located near the heart, primarily involves the vessels in the legs. Only about half of the people who have peripheral vascular disease experience symptoms. The most common symptom is leg cramping that occurs during exercise. Some of the other symptoms it can cause include changes in the skin on the legs and feet, thickened toenails, weak pulses in the legs and feet, hair loss on the legs, and wounds that don’t heal over pressure points such as heels and ankles. This condition can lead to serious consequences such as nonhealing ulcers, deep vein thrombosis, erectile dysfunction, or even stroke.
- Rheumatic heart disease, which can begin with rheumatic fever in childhood, affects heart valves, although sometimes not until 10 to 20 years after the initial illness. The symptoms a person has depend on the amount of valve damage and may include chest pain, swelling, and shortness of breath. Rheumatic fever may also develop if a person has strep throat or scarlet fever and the infection is not treated properly or after strep skin infections (impetigo). Because rheumatic fever is an immune response, not an infection, you cannot catch it from someone else who has rheumatic fever, but people with certain strep infections can spread the bacteria to others. Some of the complications of rheumatic heart disease include bacterial endocarditis (an infection of the lining of the heart), a ruptured heart valve, heart failure, and difficulties with pregnancy or delivery due to heart damage.
Who gets heart disease?
Heart disease can occur at any age but typically men are newly diagnosed between the ages of 55 to 64, while women are diagnosed between 65 to 75 years of age—ten years later than men. Men are also twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as women. According to data from the 2017-2018 Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System, each hour about 14 Canadian adults aged 20 and older with diagnosed heart disease die.
Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent heart disease. Although there is nothing we can do about having a family history of heart disease or getting older, there are several factors that increase our risk of developing heart disease that we can work on modifying. We can reduce our risk by making healthy lifestyle choices that include:
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding smoking
- Being physically active
- Eating a healthy diet
- Managing stress in a healthy way
Early detection and management of conditions that can lead to heart disease are also extremely important in helping to preserve the health of your heart.
Testing for heart disease
There are several different tests doctors perform to monitor heart health and detect heart conditions. These tests fall into a variety of categories including blood pressure monitoring, blood tests, electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, and coronary angiograms. A doctor will determine which tests each patient should have based on current health status and any symptoms that may be present. Ask your doctor how often you should have your heart health screened and if any of these tests would be right for you. Remember, many forms of heart disease do not have symptoms that you can feel.
Your London Drugs pharmacy is also an important resource in maintaining your heart health. Your pharmacist can review your medications and supplements, suggest health screening tests, and work with you and your healthcare team to optimize your treatment and prevention plan. Complimentary self-serve blood pressure kiosks are available at all London Drugs pharmacy locations, or our pharmacy team can help you select an at home blood pressure monitor to suit your needs. We carry a variety of monitors with the latest features, such as atrial fibrillation detection and wireless capabilities. Our selection of Connected Health devices allow you to store results in an app to make sharing with a caregiver or healthcare team easy and convenient. Ask your London Drugs pharmacist today how we can help you to safeguard your heart health.