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4 important things to know about heart attacks

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Always up to speed, beat after beat after beat, the cardiac muscle is a champion of endurance. It is not, however, infallible. A heart attack is as serious as it sounds. Know how to recognize one and, more importantly, how to prevent it.

L’infarctus du myocarde

1. A leading cause of death in Canada

Heart diseases and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada. Among them is myocardial infarction (MI), commonly known as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the coronary arteries no longer carry sufficient oxygen to the heart because they are blocked by a clot or have been shrunk due to a build-up of cholesterol.  The lack of oxygen causes damage to the heart. A major, long-lasting blockage can cause part of the heart to die and can lead, ultimately, to cardiac arrest.

2. Recognizing a heart attack immediately can save lives

Time is of the essence in the case of a heart attack. Every second matters and a quick reaction can help limit the extent of damage caused to the cardiac muscle. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance to recognize these signs of a heart attack quickly:

  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, sharp pain, burning sensation or tightening in the chest, which is not alleviated by resting or taking nitroglycerin;
  • Discomfort in other parts of the upper body: neck, jaw, shoulder, arm or back;
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath;
  • Excessive sweating or perspiration;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Dizziness.

It’s important to know that these symptoms may not all occur in the case of a heart attack. They can often be irregular and may not always be sudden and sharp.

3. Women must be doubly aware of symptoms

Signs of a heart attack in women can manifest in a more subtle form than in men. Women are more likely to experience chest pain that is often mistakenly attributed to heartburn. Ladies, take care!  

4. You can prevent a heart attack

There are small things you can do every day to help reduce your risk of a heart attack as well as several other serious health issues, like a cerebrovascular accident for instance. A win-win!

  • Quit smoking and avoid exposure to secondary smoke.
  • Lower your blood pressure if it is too high.
  • Control your diabetes by managing your glycemic levels.
  • Lower your cholesterol if it is too high.
  • Aim for a healthy weight and avoid a build-up of fat around your waist as this is especially dangerous for your heart.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Adopt a healthy diet by eating 8 to 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day, whole-grain foods and by eliminating unhealthy fats.
  • Learn to manage stress.

Don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist for advice on how you can take better care of your heart.

What to do in case of symptoms?

If you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, dial 911 immediately.

While you wait for the emergency services, stop all activity, sit or lie down. If you have a nitroglycerin spray, take the prescribed dose to relieve your symptoms.

The 911 operator may ask you to chew an aspirin if you aren’t allergic or intolerant. If this is the case, be sure to mention it to the medics or emergency room staff.


Certain products, foods or changes in lifestyle may not be appropriate for you. Always consult your pharmacist or a healthcare professional to make sure.


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