What we don’t know can hurt us when it comes to heart and brain health

Heart disease and stroke touches half of Canadians but knowledge is lacking

According to a new Heart & Stroke poll* many Canadians do not know enough about heart disease and stroke including information about risk factors, signs and symptoms and what to do if faced with a serious medical emergency. 

The poll also revealed the extensive reach of cardiovascular disease across the country. One in two Canadians has been personally touched by heart disease and stroke, either because they themselves or someone very close to them – a family member or close friend – have experienced them.

“The impact of heart disease and stroke to individuals and their loved ones is enormous. There are more than 3.5 million people in Canada living with these conditions and they are the second leading cause of death,” says Doug Roth, CEO, Heart & Stroke. “Yet there is a serious lack of understanding around different conditions, what they look like, the causes and the effects they can have, including life-threatening consequences. More needs to be done to raise awareness across the country.”

According to the Heart & Stroke poll:

  • 1 in 3 Canadians do not understand that cardiac arrest and heart attack are different conditions. Cardiac arrest is often referred to as an electrical problem and it means the heart has suddenly and unexpectedly stopped beating. Heart attack is often referred to as a plumbing problem of the heart; the blood flow to the heart is slowed or blocked. Both are medical emergencies and 9-1-1 should be called immediately.
  • 1 in 3 Canadians do not know that the signs of heart attack can be different in women. The most common heart attack sign is chest pain, but women may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or abdomen, dizziness, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue. Unfortunately, half of women who experience heart attacks have their symptoms go unrecognized. 
  • 1 in 3 Canadians do not know that most people who have a cardiac arrest outside of hospital do not survive. In fact, 90% who have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest do not survive. But doing CPR and using an AED can double the chance of survival. Cardiac arrest can strike anyone at any age, without warning.
  • 7 in 10 Canadians do not understand the risk factors for heart disease and stroke. They mistakenly think that family history/genetics is the biggest risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The reality is high blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease, and up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented.
  • Almost 1 in 3 Canadians mistakenly think if they witness someone having a stroke they should immediately drive them to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible. If someone has a stroke call 9-1-1 right away. An ambulance will get them to the best hospital for stroke care and lifesaving treatment begins the second you call 9-1-1.
  • 1 in 3 Canadians do not know that most people who have a stroke are left with some level of stroke-related disability. About 60% of people who have had a stroke are left with some level of stroke-related disability and more than 40% of people who have a stroke are left with moderate to severe disability. Effects of stroke can be both physical and mental.
  • 1 in 3 Canadians think it is difficult to recognize the signs of stroke if you’re not a trained healthcare professional. Everyone can learn the signs of stroke. FAST is an easy way to remember the most common signs. FAST stands for Face – is it drooping? Arms – can you raise both? Speech – is it slurred or jumbled? And Time – to call 9-1-1 right away.
  • More than 4 in 10 Canadians do not understand heart failure. More than 4 in 10 Canadians think that heart failure means your heart suddenly stops, but it actually means your heart is not functioning as it should or there is a problem with its structure.
  • More than 1 in 4 Canadians mistakenly think that most children with congenital heart disease die before they are 18. Because of medical advances in Canada and around the world, 90% of children with congenital heart disease (a condition present at birth) survive to adulthood. 

“Although the death rate from heart disease and stroke has declined over the past 70 years, they are still the second leading cause of death in Canada.  We need to continue to raise awareness, improve prevention, save more lives and enhance recovery for people living with heart disease and stroke and their caregivers,” says Roth.

*National, bilingual online poll of 2003 Canadian residents 18 years and older, carried out May 29 - June 9 2023 by Environics Research Group

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Media backgrounder

About Heart & Stroke

Life. We don’t want you to miss it. That’s why Heart & Stroke has been leading the fight to beat heart disease and stroke for 70 years. We must generate the next medical breakthroughs, so Canadians don’t miss out on precious moments. Together, we are working to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery through research, health promotion and public policy. Heartandstroke.ca @HeartandStroke 

Contact information 

Stephanie Lawrence
 613 290 4236