Heart disease is the top killer in the United States, and stroke follows close behind as the third most deadly condition. Both heart disease and stroke are also leading causes for disability in this country. Yet patients can also prevent both through their lifestyle choices; after all, the first step in protecting your mind and body from the ravages of stroke is protecting your heart from damage and disease.
The Heart-Mind Connection
Heart disease and stroke are inextricably linked, since the cardiovascular system plays a pivotal role in all the body’s functions, including the brain. The heart pumps blood to all the areas of the body, delivering oxygen and other nutrients that keep the body functioning properly. Heart disease makes this system function less efficiently.
High blood pressure almost always accompanies heart disease. Over time, the extra pressure wears on the arteries and blood vessels throughout the body. This is especially dangerous in the brain, where tiny blood vessels can stretch thin over time. Eventually the blood vessel can protrude and form a sort of pouch, called an aneurysm. This aneurysm can eventually rupture, causing a hemorrhagic stroke. It is possible to catch an aneurysm and intervene before it ruptures, so hemorrhagic stroke accounts for only a small portion of strokes.
However, the greater danger lies in the formation of blood clots. As the heart pumps less efficiently, and plaque builds up in the arteries, blood can begin to pool. When that happens, clots may form, then be pumped to other places in the body. If a clot reaches the brain and blocks blood flow, the patient suffers an ischemic stroke. Ischemic strokes account for 85 to 90% of stroke cases.
Stroke deprives brain cells of necessary oxygen, and they die as the stroke is left untreated. The type and extent of brain damage depends on where the stroke occurs, and how long the patient waits before getting treatment. Common side effects of stroke include loss of motion (usually in one side of the body), aphasia (inability to speak), and memory loss. Some of these can be reversed with rehabilitation, but others are permanent.
Preventing Heart Disease and Stroke
Even patients who have already been diagnosed with heart disease can decrease their risk for stroke and other complications. Talk to a doctor and a nutritionist before making any significant lifestyle changes, and ask how you can work to improve your heart health.
- Be brutally honest about what’s in the pantry. A healthy diet—low in salt, fat, and cholesterol—goes a long way toward keeping your heart healthy. Over time, fat and cholesterol build up in the arteries, while salt contributes to the development of high blood pressure. Opt for less meat, and more veggies!
- Take it to the street. Even moderate exercise like a daily walk around the neighborhood can improve heart health. Put together an exercise regimen that fits your schedule and makes you want to get active. A trainer can help you tailor a program to your current fitness level and choose activities that interest you.
- Quit putting off that checkup. The doctor has many diagnostic tools available, to help you catch heart disease before it causes irreversible damage. Heed the doc’s advice on getting tests like AngioScreens® or stress tests done. These simple steps can save your life.
- Work on getting rid of bad habits. Both drinking and smoking diminish overall health, including your heart’s ability to function properly. Cut down on drinking, and quit smoking entirely. The local hospital or other community organization may have smoking cessation programs to help you quit permanently.
If you have questions about stroke, heart disease, or other medical conditions please contact us at Central Florida Regional Hospital. Visit us online or call Consult-a-Nurse® at 1-800-445-3392 for answers to your questions and free physician referrals.