Take your heart to health this month

February 14 is the special day of the year when lovers celebrate and express their affection for each other.

February 14 is also the day selected to remind local citizens that they need to take better care of the heart-shaped physical organ within the body which beats about 100,000 times and pumps about 7200 litres of blood each day. Why bother? The statistics are troubling. There are an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada; that’s about one every seven minutes. Additionally, there are over 50,000 strokes each year; that’s about one every ten minutes. When the numbers for the different types of cardiovascular diseases are totalled, they show that heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in Canada.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a common term used to describe several diseases of the circulatory system that include the heart and blood vessels and can affect the lungs, brain, kidneys or other parts of the body. Examples of cardiovascular disease are: heart disease, stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease and congenital heart disease.

Heart disease is a general term that describes many heart conditions. It is the most prevalent type of CVD in Canada and other industrialized countries around the world. Coronary artery disease is the most common of all the heart-related diseases. It results from problems with the circulation of blood to the heart muscle. If one or more of the coronary arteries that lead to the heart are partially blocked or narrowed, oxygen-rich blood is prevented from reaching the heart muscle. Chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath can be the result. A complete blockage of an artery causes damage to the heart tissues and a heart attack can occur.

Heart disease is also one of several risk factors for stroke. For example, a heart problem called atrial fibrillation makes the heart beat irregularly and may cause blood clots to form, which can travel to the brain, blocking the flow of blood. When the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, brain cells begin to die from lack of oxygen. If the blood supply is not restored, the affected part of the brain dies, causing a stroke and leading to disability and/or death.

Heart failure occurs when the pumping action of the heart cannot provide enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body as required. It can happen, for example, from a heart attack, from damage to the heart muscle, from excessive consumption of alcohol or from a heart muscle disease.

Peripheral vascular disease affects circulation primarily in the legs. The typical result is pain in the calves of the legs during walking.

Finally, congenital heart disease is a heart problem arising from a birth defect. The anatomical defects of the heart can range from a small hole in one of the inside walls of the heart to complex structural problems which affect blood flows through the heart and lungs. Medication and/ or surgical intervention can correct some congenital defects.

In Canada, from 1960 to 2004, the rate of mortality from CVD decreased dramatically. A specific reason has not been identified but the 2009 report, “Tracking Heart Disease and Stroke in Canada”, suggests a combination of factors such as lower rates of smoking, consumption of more fruits and vegetables, and better diagnosis, treatment and management of individuals with CVD.

Despite the progress made, Canadians cannot be complacent. Heart disease and stroke remain Canada’s leading causes of death. In the future, there may be an actual increase in the number of deaths because the risk of CVD increases with age and Canada’s population is aging. In addition,

the rates of obesity and diabetes – two conditions that greatly increase the risk of CVD are increasing. It is important to understand how to prevent these serious illnesses that will impact the lives of almost 70 per cent of Canadians in some way.

While factors such as age, family history, gender or ethnicity that lead to heart attack and stroke cannot be controlled, there are many other risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol that can be.

To help you and your family to prevent or to manage heart disease and stroke, Agassiz Community Health, together with its partners, will be hosting a public information day on Monday, 14 February, 2011 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fitness/Activity Center located at 6660 Pioneer Avenue in Agassiz. You will be able to have your blood pressure tested, see CPR and exercise demonstrations, gather important information to take home and read, and have access to advice from health professionals. Love your heart enough to care for it. [Credits to The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Public health Agency of Canada]

Agassiz Community Health Centre (Fraser Health)