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Eight heart-health questions that could save your life

Cardiologist Beth Abramson, a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, reveals how a little awareness — plus a healthy dose of diet and exercise — is more powerful than drugs when it comes to saving your life.

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Q: What is heart disease?
A:
It’s many conditions of the heart including angina [chest pain], arrhythmia, heart attacks and more. Another concerning one is coronary artery disease, or atherosclerosis, which is plaque buildup in the arteries.

Q: What is the most common heart attack symptom?
A:
Chest discomfort or heaviness that radiates to your arm, jaw or throat. Get medical attention if you feel this.

Q: How does excess plaque affect heart function?
A:
Too much plaque reduces blood flow, eventually creating chest pain [angina] that feels like squeezing, burning or suffocating. If a blood clot develops, it cuts blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack.

Q: What’s the best treatment for heart disease?
A:
Lifestyle changes and meds, like cholesterol-lowering statins. Some may need angioplasty or surgery.

Q: For prevention, where is the best place to start?
A:
Eat more fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week.

Q: How do men and women deal with heart attack symptoms differently?
A:
Symptoms are similar, but women tend to minimize their symptoms. I’ve had several female patients come to the emergency room and say to me, “It couldn’t be my heart — maybe it’s my stomach or my gallbladder.”

Q: Studies suggest women with heart disease often go undiagnosed. Why?
A:
It could be that doctors didn’t always have heart disease high on their radar screens for women. They’re now more aware, thanks to national awareness campaigns like thehearttruth.ca.

Q: Is there one heart-health test we should insist on during annual checkups?
A:
Ask your doctor to check your waist circumference [heart-disease risk is higher for those with a 35-inch waist or more], weight and blood pressure. Then, based on your age, consider a fasting cholesterol test or blood sugar test. Let your doctor know your family history.

Follow the jump to read our full heart health special report.