Disability Blog

Ischemic heart disease and disability

Ischemic heart disease (IHD) is a condition that affects nearly 10 percent of the Canadian population and could result in disability. Data from 2012 shows that roughly 2.4 million Canadian adults have been diagnosed with ischemic heart disease. It continues to be the most common form of cardiovascular disease in the country as well as in many countries around the world. People with ischemic heart disease can find it challenging to continue their work while continuing to live with this physical condition.

Unfortunately, many individuals with disabilities as a result of ischemic heart disease are denied disability benefits. If you have a disability and have been denied disability benefits, reach out to speak with Lalande Disability Lawyers today.

What is ischemic heart disease?

Ischemic heart disease is sometimes referred to as myocardial ischemia, coronary heart disease (CHD), or coronary artery disease (CAD), all of which refer to a condition where oxygen-filled blood cannot pass through arteries due to blockage. Blockage in arteries is usually the result of atherosclerosis, which is the narrowing of arteries caused by plaque build-up due to high cholesterol. It contributes to making heart disease one of the most significant causes of death in Canada; in 2020, 17.5% of deaths in Canada resulted from heart disease, the highest cause of death after cancer. 

Risk factors for ischemic heart disease

  • Genetic inheritance: Individuals with a family history of having heart-related issues have a higher than average chance of developing ischemic heart disease. 
  • Smoking and tobacco: Breathing in cigarette smoke (including secondhand smoke) damages the arterial walls. Regular exposure can directly lead to more substances, including plaque, building up in the artery. Smoking can also increase the risk of blood clots, which is another significant health risk. 
  • Diabetes: Having either type 1 or type 2 diabetes increases someone’s risk of developing ischemic heart disease and other heart-related issues. 
  • Hypertension: Having hypertension (higher blood pressure) can increase atherosclerosis, which is directly related to ischemic heart disease. High blood pressure can be the result of smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, improper diet (including having too much salt or potassium in your diet), family history, and regularly living with high levels of stress.
  • Obesity: Having a higher than healthy BMI has connections with conditions like diabetes, hypertension and high levels of blood cholesterol, which are all considered risk factors for ischemic heart disease. 
  • Body size: Larger individuals, and specifically those who have wider waists, are at a greater risk of developing ischemic heart disease. 
  • Physical inactivity: Researchers recommend that adults have at least 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity every week, but many fall short of that. Most employed Canadians reported being sedentary for 68.9% of an average day. Lack of physical activity is closely linked to many other risk factors of ischemic heart disease, including obesity and increased body size. 
  • Diet choices: Regularly eating food rich in fats can cause cholesterol to build up in your arteries, increasing your chances of developing ischemic heart disease. 

Symptoms of ischemic heart disease

Some people may not experience any notable symptoms before the blockage is serious enough to cause a life-threatening cardiac event. (sometimes termed “silent ischemia”). For those who experience symptoms, recognizing the possibility that you might have ischemic heart disease can give you an opportunity to be proactive and seek medical help to get ahead of the condition:

  • Angina: is the most significant symptom of ischemic heart disease; it will feel like an intense episode of chest pain. It is caused by obstructed blood flow to the heart. It can feel like a burning sensation or as if something is pressing the heart or chest area and is sometimes accompanied by dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath and sweating. When it presents as a symptom of ischemic heart disease, there are two types: stable and unstable angina. Stable angina will usually respond to medication and rest, while unstable angina is much more unpredictable. People with angina often feel that their pain worsens when they are physically active and that it improves when they are at rest.
  • Elevated heartbeat: the heart will feel like it is beating faster than it would normally, even while not doing any physical activity that would warrant an elevated heartbeat, such as physical exercise or sports. 
  • Physical pain: sensations in your shoulder, arm or neck may be a result of ischemic heart disease
  • Shortness of breath: during physical activity, if you feel a sudden shortness of breath, it could be a result of ischemic heart disease
  • Unusual sweating: while sweating itself is a normal physical reaction, you may find yourself sweating at unusual times. 
  • Fatigue: feeling unusually tired can be a problematic symptom
  • Nausea: feeling unwell or unable to keep down food can indicate issues like ischemic heart disease.

How will my doctor confirm ischemic heart disease?

Even if you experience symptoms that might suggest ischemic heart disease, your doctor will need to confirm whether or not you have ischemic heart disease. This can be done through a combination of these tests:

  • Stress test: This test involves monitoring certain measures of physical health while you perform certain exercises, such as jogging on a treadmill. Your doctor will be able to monitor information like your heart rate, heart rhythm and blood pressure while you exercise, which will indicate whether or not you have ischemic heart disease. 
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test involves attaching a number of wires to your chest, which will check your heartbeat and heart rhythm. 
  • Chest X-ray: X-rays provide doctors with a look at what the heart looks like inside, and the condition of the muscle can help confirm a diagnosis of ischemic heart disease
  • Blood tests: Blood samples and drawn and tested to check for levels of fats, cholesterol, and proteins, which can determine whether you are dealing with ischemic heart disease. 
  • Cardiac catheterization and coronary angiogram: Your doctor may order a cardiac catheterization and coronary angiogram for a more detailed report. This test involves a thin tube being inserted into the coronary artery through your arm, neck or upper thigh. A dye is injected, which allows your doctor to get a clearer picture of the blood flow, including any areas of concern. 

What can I do to avoid ischemic heart disease?

  • Avoid or stop smoking; the regular intake of smoke has been directly linked to serious medical conditions, including ischemic heart disease.
  • Monitor heart blood pressure; make sure that your diet is one that helps you maintain lower blood pressure. There are simple adjustments that can be taken to keep blood pressure low:
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and whole grains as a part of your regular diet. 
  • Reduce the number of processed goods and sugary foods in your diet.
  • Maintain regular exercise; it’s recommended that adults have about 150 minutes of physical activity every week.
  • Balance out your diet with vitamin supplements; if you are unable to maintain a regular diet that includes a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables, make sure that you’re supplementing your meals with vitamin supplements.

Is ischemic heart disease a disability?

Individuals with ischemic heart disease may qualify for disability benefits if they can demonstrate that their condition prevents them from meeting the requirements of their job. While some people can learn to go about life with ischemic heart disease, there are some aspects of ischemic health disease that make this disability extremely disruptive and life-changing for others:

  • The constant danger of having an angina flare-up because of physical activity that stresses the body too much is a serious concern for individuals who work in work that require a certain degree of physicality, like construction, roadwork, or manufacturing. In the long term, continuing work that would place someone at risk of an angina attack or other cardiac events like a heart attack is not a risk worth taking. 
  • Over time, the chronic lack of oxygen to the heart muscle means that individuals with ischemic heart disease experience worsening symptoms. Working while regularly feeling fatigued and being constantly short of breath can quickly become too much to maintain for many, who then have to consider either seeking alternative employment or simply leaving their work to focus on their physical health.
  • Keeping a healthy diet and lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise is one of the key aspects of recovery for people with ischemic heart disease, but both require an abundance of time and financial resources to accommodate. For someone working a minimum wage job, maintaining a diet that doesn’t regularly incorporate relying on convenient, albeit unhealthy, options like fast-food or frozen meals can be impractical, if not impossible. 
  • Heart disease is one of the top reasons in Canada for hospitalizations. There is constant testing and medical procedures that require patients to be in and out of hospitals regularly. The time burden this creates makes it challenging to maintain a presence at work and is a distraction that prevents many with ischemic heart disease from continuing to succeed at their jobs. 

To completely satisfy an insurance company’s request for proof, you should be prepared to provide documentation that objectively demonstrates how your ischemic heart disease prevents you from completing the duties of your job:

  • a description of your job duties, with a focus on any physical requirements for completion. 
  • an account of how your symptoms are preventing you from performing your duties satisfactorily.
  • a doctor’s report of your condition with dated medical scans which show the development of your condition and an official recommendation on whether you are physically able to continue working at your job. 
  • medical evidence proving that you’ve experienced a cardiac event in the past. It’s often the case that insurance companies will only consider evidence of a serious cardiac event such as a heart attack, angina or silent ischemia as proof that you qualify for long-term disability benefits. 

What should I do if I suspect I might have ischemic heart disease?

  • Speak to a doctor about your suspicions and have them check you for any signs of ischemic heart disease. 
  • If your job requires a great deal of physical activity, inform your manager and company; ask to be considered for less physical work so that there’s no danger of you or your coworkers being injured in the event that you have a cardiac event while at work.
  • Monitor your health and avoid any known risk factors; try to avoid smoking, maintain regular physical exercise and be conscious about what you eat. 

Have you been diagnosed with ischemic heart disease?

Ischemic heart disease is an unfortunately common condition across Canada and the world and can make it impossible for someone to continue their work. At the same time, many will find it a challenge to secure the disability benefits that they qualify for from insurance companies that have many years of experience in denying disability claims.

Since 2003, Hamilton Disability Lawyer Matt Lalande has recovered millions for the disabled people throughout Ontario who have been wrongfully denied or cut off their long-term disability benefits. Call us today no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Burlington/ Hamilton / Niagara areas at 289-278-8506 today. We would be more than happy to help evaluate your case – for free – and answer any questions you may have.


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