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Survey finds heart attack, stroke survivors aren’t getting healthier


February 3, 2014
By Will Campbell The Canadian Press

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Feb. 3, 2014 — Many Canadians who survive a heart attack or stroke are failing to make healthy changes that reduce the risk of the potentially catastrophic attacks occurring again, according to a new poll.

The online survey done for the Heart and Stroke Foundation found more
than half of respondents who needed to adopt healthier behaviours such
as getting physically active or eating better couldn't make the changes
stick or didn't try in the first place.

That means while the vast
majority of those who suffer a heart attack or stroke and get to
hospital will live, more work needs to be done to ensure survivors start
living healthier to help prevent the major medical events from striking
again, the group says in its survey report.

"The problem is that
many of us who are at risk — and people who have had a heart attack are
at the greatest risk of recurring heart attacks — are not making the
lifestyle changes we need," said Dr. Beth Abramson, report author and
Toronto cardiologist.

"We need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk."

And at the top of the list of reasons why those changes don't sink in is lacklustre motivation, according to the survey.

A
slim majority of those polled said surviving was akin to being given a
"second chance" and would improve their health, while roughly the same
number did report living a "little healthier" after a heart attack or
stroke.

Abramson said that while for many the "initial scare"
spurs better habits and routines, those healthy behaviours can wane over
the long term as the medical crisis fades from memory.

"People
forget about their events. So seven or 10 years later they might forget
why do I take this medication or why is that important, because 'out of
sight, out of mind.'"

Abramson called the survey a "wake-up call"
for both survivors to be more aware of the importance of healthy living
and physicians to better ensure patients with cardiovascular disease
make those changes last and not end up back in hospital.

One thing nearly all respondents deemed a big help was support from family and friends.

"When
a family is involved, when friends are involved and you have a support
network, it's easier to understand that these changes are a lifelong
process," Abramson said.

Emotional boost can also get those who
went through cardiac arrest or stroke into rehabilitation, according to
the health group. A minority of patients are referred to such programs,
it states, while only 60 per cent of those surveyed finished a full
course of rehab.

Personal trainer Nadia Bender felt chest pains
while teaching a class at her Toronto studio last year. But the
46-year-old fitness buff didn't realize she had suffered a heart attack
until later discussing her symptoms with a nurse at her daughter's
soccer game — and was then taken to hospital right from the sidelines.

"They were completely surprised when they found the blockages," Bender said.

She says support from those around her helped her get through a comprehensive four-month rehab program.

"I
relied a lot on my family and on my friends to help me with my daily
activities, to help me with my kids, taking them to events, getting
things done," Bender said.

"Once you've had such an event happen
to you, you reassess everything that's going on in your life and it can
become overwhelming. You really need a hand to hold or someone
supporting you to help you get through it."

The online poll was
conducted by Environics Research Group between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3, 2013
and surveyed 2,010 Canadians who survived a heart attack or stroke, or
had a living immediate family member or very close friend who had a
heart attack or stroke in the past decade and were questioned about
their perceptions of the survivor's experiences.

The polling
industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence
Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error
because they do not randomly sample the population.