A heart attack or stroke occurs when there is a blockage in your artery that prevents proper blood flow. During a heart attack, the blood is blocked from properly and/or fully going to your heart. In the same way, blood is prohibited from going to your brain during a stroke. The blockages in a stroke and heart attack are created in the same way and both pose life-threatening consequences.
Your body contains veins and arteries that act as tunnels which carry blood throughout your body. Arteries carry blood that is high in oxygen while veins carry blood low in oxygen. Arteries also carry blood under higher pressure which causes the blood to be transported at a higher velocity.
In both cases, a blockage in your arteries is what is responsible for a heart attack or stroke. A blockage can occur quickly or over time. Blockages are most often made up of fat, cholesterol or other substances that buildup in your arteries. This substance turns into plaque and can slowly buildup on the inside of your arteries. In some cases, the artery slowly closes from plaque buildup, prohibiting proper blood flow. In other cases, a part of the plaque breaks off the walls of the artery and enters your bloodstream. Once entering your bloodstream, it can form a blood clot within the artery instantly. This is how a heart attack and stroke occur; the difference is where the clogged artery or “tunnel” leads to: your heart (heart attack) or your brain (stroke).
Heart Attack: Warning Signs and Risks
When a heart attack prevents blood and oxygen from dispersing correctly to your heart it can cause permanent damage to your heart muscle. The results of a heart attack depend on the location and severity of the blockage, meaning how much blood has been interrupted to your heart muscle. Large blockages that prevent blood from going to the majority of the heart will cause greater damage than blockages that allow only minimal interruption to blood to flow to the heart. Some people recover completely with no significant heart damage while others have a weakened heart condition. This can lead to long term shortness of breath or exercise intolerance. If you think you are having a heart attack, the best thing to do is to go to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible. The faster you present to the hospital, the less likely you are to suffer from long term complications from your heart attack.
When someone is at risk of having a heart attack, they often have pain in their chest, shortness of breath, palpitations, leg swelling, difficulty breathing when lying flat or exercise intolerance. As said before, a heart attack can happen suddenly or over time. Not all signs of a heart attack are immediate. It often manifests in the slow decline of exercise tolerance, an increase of fatigue from daily activities or chest pain with exercise. Looking out for these signs overtime is a great way to prevent delayed treatment.
Stroke: Warning Signs and Risks
When an artery that supplies blood to your brain is blocked it prevents proper blood and oxygen from reaching your brain which can lead to a stroke. A good way to think of a stroke is as a heart attack in your brain. In many cases, people have no warning that they are at risk of having a stroke. Others may have a sudden onset of symptoms such as difficulty speaking or an inability to move an arm or leg. Others have mini strokes called TIAs that are short episodes where your body may stop functioning as usual. Your arm(s) or leg(s) may become weak, and your speech slurred for short periods of time, usually less than an hour.
After a stroke, some people recover completely while others are left with an inability to speak or walk due to leg weakness. Just like a heart attack, the quicker you get to a hospital after the onset of symptoms, the less likely you are to have long term neurological deficits. Depending on the time of presentation of the stroke, some patients are given ‘clot busters’ or some will have a catheter-based therapy where the clot is removed from the blocked blood vessel. Many people undergo rehabilitation to retrain their muscles and regain their strength.
Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention
Since both a heart attack and stroke are related to blockages in your blood vessels, your risk of having either is reduced in a similar fashion. In addition, if you have had a heart attack or stroke, your risk for either condition is elevated as they are both related to blockages in blood vessels. Healthy living and listening to your doctor are the best ways to prevent a heart attack or stroke, or lower your risk of a second one. Below are things you can do to considerably lower your risk.
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a heart healthy diet
- Stop smoking
- Controlling your blood pressure
- Taking your medication as prescribed
- Lower your cholesterol
- Controlling your diabetes
We hope this month’s information has been helpful and that you will join us next month for more heart healthy tips that will hopefully improve your quality of life and reduce your risk for long term medical problems.
As always, thanks for letting us Kare for your heart!