Heart Attack vs. Stroke
by Dr. Zia Khan
For young people, or those who’ve never known someone who’s had a heart attack or stroke, there can be a misperception that heart attack and stroke aren’t related. But they can be, and both are largely preventable if you live a healthy lifestyle.
Heart and blood vessel disease (also called heart disease) includes numerous problems, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis, a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can block the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.
Most people survive their first heart attack and return to their normal lives, enjoying many more years of productive activity. But experiencing a heart attack does mean that you need to make some changes.
The medications and lifestyle changes that your doctor recommends may vary according to how badly your heart was damaged, and to what degree of heart disease caused the heart attack.
An ischemic stroke (the most common type of stroke) occurs when a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets blocked, usually from a blood clot.
When the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off, some brain cells will begin to die. This can result in the loss of functions controlled by that part of the brain, such as walking or talking.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel within the brain bursts. This is most often caused by uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure).
Some effects of stroke are permanent if too many brain cells die after being starved of oxygen. These cells are never replaced.
The good news is that sometimes brain cells don’t die during stroke — instead, the damage is temporary. Over time, as injured cells repair themselves, previously impaired function improves. (In other cases, undamaged brain cells nearby may take over for the areas of the brain that were injured.)Either way, strength may return, speech may get better and memory may improve. This recovery process is what stroke rehabilitation is all about.
When it comes to recognizing a heart attack or stroke and getting help, the faster, the better. That’s because prompt treatment may make the difference between life and death — or the difference between a full recovery and long-term disability.
Whether young or old, living a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The American Heart Association recently updated its lifestyle recommendations to include eight key actions you should follow. It calls those actions Life’s Essential 8. Go to the Association’s website at https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle to learn how you can live healthier and avoid heart attack and stroke.
DR. ZIA KHAN is a cardiologist at Queen’s Hospital and American Heart Association Hawaii Division Board President.