Heart Attack and Stroke: Why You Could Be at Risk for Both

Posted at 10:58 AM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 10:58:58-05

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METRO HEALTHIt can be argued that time is our most precious resource. At one point or another you’ve probably said, “I wish I had more time. I just need one more hour or one more day.” We spend time on tasks, careers, families and friends, but has it ever occurred to you that significant time could be lost by not doing something?

Doctors will tell you, delaying treatment during a stroke or heart attack has the potential to take time off your life—and it can also take your life altogether. Of course, if you knew you were having a heart attack or stroke, you’d go to the hospital immediately, but we don’t always know. The symptoms might not be crystal clear in the moment. But when the statistics about how time impacts the body following a stroke or heart attack are revealed, the reality is shocking.  Click here for more information.

Every minute there’s a blocked clot in the brain, a person loses two million brain cells. In that same minute, three to four days of healthy life are lost. Every 30 minutes you wait to get help during a heart attack can take one year off your life. Minutes matter, and waiting kills.

Heart attacks and strokes impact different areas of the body—the heart and the brain—but the link between heart disease and a stroke is significant. Metro Health – University of Michigan Health neurointerventional radiologist Augusto Elias, MD, notes that your heart and the brain are attached by arteries, making the systems intimately connected. “What happens in one area ultimately affects the other.”

Heart attacks and strokes also have the same risk factors: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, poor diet and physical inactivity. Larry Diaz, MD, a Metro Health – University of Michigan Health interventional cardiologist, explains that certain heart conditions can predispose people to strokes. “Patients who have atrial fibrillation—a type of irregular heartbeat—can develop clots in the chamber of the heart that could get launched into arteries of the brain and cause a stroke.”

High blood pressure is another heart-related condition that puts patients at a higher risk for stroke. “Three out of four stroke victims have high blood pressure,” Diaz remarks. “Therefore, treating the heart condition can reduce a patient’s risk of stroke.” According to the National Stroke Association, high blood pressure damages the arteries throughout the body, creating conditions where weakened arteries can burst or clog more easily.

It’s abundantly clear, there is a strong connection between the heart and brain. February is American Heart Month, and around the country, health systems are promoting heart health and sharing the signs of a heart attack. Elias and Diaz believe the conversation this month can—and should—involve both the heart and brain. “The message is, for both conditions, that treatment must occur as quickly as possible,” Elias emphasizes. “If action isn’t taken quickly, and 911 isn’t called immediately, patients are at a much higher risk of disability or even death.”

Elias says knowing the signs of a heart attack or stroke is the key to faster treatment. While heart attack symptoms vary from person to person—and can also differ between men and women—the signs to remember are: chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as the arms, back, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, nausea and lightheadedness.

“For stroke symptoms, we have a mnemonic device to help people remember,” Elias says. “Remember the word FAST, which stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time.” Face means a person’s face my droop on one side. Arms can mean one arm drifts downward. Speech stands for a person’s slurred or strange speech. And finally, Time reminds people to call 911 immediately if they observe or feel any one of these signs.

While a family history of heart attack or stroke can make prevention difficult, most of the time they can be prevented by receiving regular check-ups with your primary care physician and by taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle. “So many heath conditions can be prevented by making smarter health decisions,” states Elias. “Monitor your blood sugar and blood pressure, reduce the amount of salt in your diet, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking and exercise five days a week for 30 minutes. You’ll not only protect your brain, but your heart as well.”

Metro Health is a designated Comprehensive Stroke Center, which means the hospital is equipped and prepared to manage the most severe and acute cases of stroke. Trained personnel assist patients from the door of the emergency department, through critical care and onto rehabilitation. Metro Health is also an Accredited Chest Pain Center. The hospital system provides medical intervention following heart attacks, coordinates community education about heart disease and has undergone rigorous training in treatment and prevention.

Making your health a priority does take time, but consider the time you could lose if you don’t. Consider what that time is worth, and what you may miss out on if it’s gone.