Heart disease is the leading cause of death in North America for both men and women, and according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, it is estimated that cardiovascular disease accounts for 29% of deaths in Canada. Although heart disease is most common in middle aged women and men, it is important to know the signs and symptoms at any age as sudden death in people under the age of 35 is often due to an underlying condition affecting the heart. Fainting, angina, shortness of breath, and arrhythmia are symptoms of heart disease that you should be aware of.


Fainting is a loss consciousness for a period of time, typically a few minutes, when there is a decrease in oxygen flow to the brain. This is definitely not a sign to ignore, especially in younger individuals and when it occurs during physical exertion. Although there are many causes of fainting, including a sudden drop in blood pressure or a seizure; it can also be related to an undetected abnormality in your heart such as valvular disease or an arrhythmia.

Health Tip:If you have more than one fainting episode in one month, please get checked by your doctor, especially if you have a family history of heart disease or stroke. Specific tests may need to be ordered such as routine blood work and an echocardiogram to determine and treat the cause.


Pain in your chest that occurs intermittently is the typical definition of angina. It can be mild or severe in quality and it tends to occur when some degree of coronary artery disease exists. In women however, angina may be experienced differently. A dull ache in the middle of your back, shoulders or along your jawline is more often than not, the typical presentation of angina in women.

Health Tip: If the pain or discomfort persists for more than 5 to 10 minutes, or if it occurs at rest, go to the emergency department. Call 911 if the onset is sudden as you may be having a heart attack. Speak with a naturopathic doctor about dietary recommendations that may be helpful such as the Mediterranean diet. Consider adding 3 ounces of 70% dark chocolate to your diet on a daily basis. This delicious, powerful antioxidant been shown in scientific studies to improve blood flow to the heart, thus reducing your risk of angina attacks.

Shortness of Breath

The medical term for shortness of breath is dyspnea. This feeling of breathlessness can be due to many causes including asthma, lung disease and allergic reactions. Coronary artery disease can be a major cause of dyspnea and leading a lifestyle of inactivity can predispose you to this. In one study, researchers discovered that a sedentary lifestyle was the most detrimental risk factor for heart disease in women age 30 and older. Physical deconditioning due to a sedentary lifestyle is a common cause of dyspnea.

Health Tip: If you experience a sudden onset of dyspnea, call 911 as you may be experiencing a heart attack. If you are overweight, work with your health care provider to address this as overweight and obesity can cause shortness of breath. Losing weight may help to take the burden off of your heart and improve the response of your lungs to physical exertion, which will inevitably reduce your risk for future cardiac events.


An arrhythmia is an irregular heart rate. Many arrhythmias go unnoticed in an individual’s lifetime and pose very little health risk. However, some arrhythmias can be life threatening.

Health Tip: Reduce your alcohol consumption. The onset and worsening of an arrhythmia has been associated with regular alcohol consumption. For decades, moderate alcohol consumption has been touted as a preventative strategy for heart disease. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that men should limit their alcohol intake to 2 drinks daily and for women, no more than 1 drink daily. However, this may still be too much if you suffer from an arrhythmia.

Although you may have a family history of cardiovascular disease, know that the nutrition and lifestyle choices that you make today, will impact whether those genes will be expressed or not in the future. In other words, heart disease can be prevented.

Please see your naturopathic doctor for recommendations specific to your case.

About the Author

Dr. Olivia Rose graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences and in 2006, she graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

In addition to her private practice, Dr. Rose is the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a mobile service that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination at Toronto fertility clinics. Her special areas of interest include infertility; children and teen health; stress management; weight loss; heart disease; digestive and immune health; skin rejuvenation and pain management. She is a birth doula and has additional training in cosmetic acupuncture and needle-less therapies for skin rejuvenation and joint pain.

Dr. Rose is a sought-after lecturer for community organizations; a freelance writer and mentor to new graduates. She has been interviewed by various media outlets including Global Toronto’s, “The Morning Show”, “News at Noon” and “News Hour”. In her free time, she unplugs at the spa and she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, son and tea-cup Yorkie. For more information on Dr. Rose's practice and special events, please visit -