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Seven Deadly Myths Threatening Canadians' Heart Health

The Heart and Stroke Foundations Annual Report Card on Canadians Health shows almost two-thirds of adult Canadians (60%) are seriously misinformed when it comes to protecting their own heart health. These misconceptions cover the spectrum from risk factors for risk factors for heart disease and stroke to the treatment of these conditions.

According to the newly released Heart and Stroke Foundation Report Card, the prevalence of such myths continues to threaten the heart health of the nation. Overall, the Report Card shows Canadians discount the impact that prevalence of such myths continues to threaten the heart health of the nation. Overall, the Report Card shows Canadians discount the impact that high blood pressure , elevated blood cholesterol and family history play in the development of heart disease and stroke.

A lack of understanding about the critical role these risk factors play in Canadians heart health, may cause people to underestimate their risk and leave themselves vulnerable to premature disease and death, says Dr. Anthony Graham, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson. The fact is, if left undiagnosed and/or untreated, any single one of these risk factors can double or even triple a persons risk.

Only one-third (34%) of Canadians is able to name even one of these three risk factors. This lack of risk factor awareness is alarming, particularly in the case of high blood pressure. Nearly a quarter (22%) of Canadian adults have high blood pressure. Of these, 42% are unaware of their high blood pressure, and of those who are aware of their condition, only 16% have their blood pressure treated and under control. The Report Card shows that Canadians are also still buying in to a common myth about high blood pressure that it is related to a personality type.

The Heart & Stroke Myths Report Card

Myth % Canadians Who
Accept Myth Reject Myth Grade
Only tense, irritable, people have to worry about developing high blood pressure 68% 32% F
At least 75% of heart and stroke risk is determined by lifestyle 55% 45% F
You have to gain a lot of weight before your health risk increases 58% 42% F
Plaque leading to heart disease and stroke begins in adulthood 75% 25% F
Exercise counteracts effects of smoking up to a pack a day 20% 80% B
It is not necessary to seek immediate emergency care for chest discomfort/pain 82% 18% F
Damage to heart tissue caused by a heart attack can be reversed by diet and exercise 89% 11% F

Base: 1,250 Canadians surveyed, December 2002;

WHAT DOES THIS REPORT CARD TELL US?

One of the most concerning findings of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Report Card is that Canadians appear to have a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to chest pain /discomfort a key warning sign of heart attack. Instead of seeking emergency medical attention, 82% of respondents said they would rest, wait, or call their family doctor if the symptoms persisted. The reality is, the longer people with heart attack symptoms wait, the greater their risk of death or long-term disability, says Dr. Graham.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation Report Card also found one-third of Canadians believe a womans risk is solely determined by her female relatives. In fact, both men and womens risk is determined by their family history on both sides.

The development of artery-blocking plaques is the subject of another myth. Most Canadians believe plaque development only begins in adulthood. There is strong evidence that in North America precursors to plaque begins early in childhood, often by age 10, says Dr. Beth Abramson, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson.

These findings do not bode well for future generations. Our children and teens are already experiencing alarming rates of obesity, physical inactivity, and early diabetes all of which are on the rise, says Dr. Abramson, a cardiologist .

WHY DO CANADIANS BELIEVE THESE MYTHS?

The Report Card shows that Canadians have lifestyle high on their radar screen when it comes to protecting their own heart health. But, this awareness should not blur the important role that other risk factors play.

When were bombarded with so many health messages, it can be a daunting task to prioritize the information that we will take action on, says Dr. Robert Nolan, a Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher specializing in human behaviour. Myths can often become top of mind because theyre repeated time and time again. So, the longer theyre around, the more we tend to believe them.

However, being unaware of your own heart disease and stroke risk profile can prevent you from taking advantage of appropriate screening and monitoring assessments, says Dr. Nolan. Canadians need to work with their doctors to evaluate their risks.

Recent national surveys show that Canadians and their family physicians need to start working together. Of the Canadian population, 23% still smoke, 48% are overweight and 55% are physically inactive. Governments, communities and health systems have to also support healthy living for Canadians.

In response to the Report Card findings, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is offering a number of information resources to Canadians. By logging on to www.heartandstroke.ca, Canadians can assess their personal risk for heart disease and stroke. They can also access tools to help them better understand the heart and stroke warning signs, learn how to monitor their blood pressure and high blood cholesterol and how to work in partnership with their doctors. The Foundation has a toll-free number 1-888-HSF-INFO.

The Heart and Stroke Foundations Report Card on Canadians Health was first developed by the Foundation in 1996 to provide an annual national perspective on Canadians attitudes, beliefs and health status related to heart disease and stroke. This years Report Card was conducted among 1,250 Canadians aged 18 and over and is considered accurate within +4.2%, 19 times out of 20.

For important health information links related to these myths, go to the full story.