Despite heart disease and stroke impacting half of Canada’s population in some form, a new poll conducted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation reveals a concerning lack of understanding related to these health issues. The survey states that one in three Canadians fails to comprehend the distinction between cardiac arrest and a heart attack. Even more startling is that many are unaware that men and women exhibit different symptoms during a heart attack.
Lesley James, a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, pinpoints the issue stating, “it’s troubling that a third of Canadians believe that recognizing the signs of a stroke requires professional healthcare training. In fact, these signals are easy to identify and crucial to know. Strokes can affect anyone, regardless of age.”
The poll declares this lack of understanding through its survey of 2,003 Canadians aged 18 and above. Conducted by the Environics Research Group, data were gathered from May 29 to June 9, 2023, further illuminating the public’s shocking knowledge gaps.
Cardiac arrest, a medical emergency where the heart suddenly stops beating, differs significantly from heart attacks, which occur when the blood flow to the heart is interrupted or blocked. Despite these discrepancies, the survey suggests that one in three Canadians are unaware that these are distinctly different health conditions.
Similarly, a stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is obstructed. According to Dr. Robert Fahed, a noted neurologist at The Ottawa Hospital, heart attacks and strokes are often a result of the same vascular risk factors including smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
The poll also reveals that many Canadians remain ignorant about the different signs of a heart attack in women. Unlike the archetypal ‘Hollywood’ heart attack scenario typically associated with men, women’s symptoms can vary dramatically. Women can experience conditions from shortness of breath, pain in the lower chest or abdomen, to pressure in the upper back or extreme fatigue.
Dr. Fahed noted the urgency for increased awareness, specifically regarding the varied symptoms women experience during heart attacks, “Women’s physiology does vary slightly because of higher estrogen levels which impact the heart and vessels differently. This distinction can lead to heart attacks at a different age and with varying severity in women.” It’s also essential to recognize that women often underestimate the seriousness of their symptoms, which could lead to irreversible damage or even fatalities.
This lack of awareness extends to the survival rate of cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, which is a mere 10%. As per the poll, one in three Canadians are oblivious to this fact, and mistakenly believe that they should drive a person suffering from stroke to the hospital instead of calling emergency services immediately.
In the case of witnessing a cardiac arrest, “Prompt action is crucial. Use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and CPR could potentially save a life. Any delay in taking the victim to a hospital could potentially hamper any chance of survival,” advises James.
Putting it succinctly, Dr. Fahed stated, “For heart arrest, heart attack and stroke, every second matter. Prompt medical intervention by professionals can significantly improve the patient’s prognosis.”
The research findings underline the urgent need for increasing public awareness about heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest as well as recognizing the importance of early intervention for survival.