Heart Attack and Stroke: Know the Signs and Reduce Your Risk

February is American Heart Month, so we are sharing important information on heart health. According to the American Heart Association, following a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. We’ll take a look at those lifestyle changes later, but first, let’s cover some basics.

Heart attack and stroke are caused by interruptions to blood flow to the heart or brain. During a heart attack, the blood flow to the heart muscle is diminished significantly or cut off. During a stroke, an artery leading to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. Both can result in lifelong disability or prove fatal, so it’s important to take the warning signs seriously. Here are a few signs to be aware of:

Heart Attack Signs

The American Heart Association says the following are warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain or discomfort–which can be a sense of fullness, pressure, or squeezing–is felt in the center of the chest and lasts more than a few minutes. It may stop and then return.
  • Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Developing a cold sweat; feeling nauseated or lightheaded.

In the event of heart attack warning signs, it is best to call 911 as it is the fastest way to get care. The EMS team can begin administering treatment as soon as they arrive and patients receive treatment faster going to the hospital by ambulance rather than by car.

Stroke Signs

The National Institutes of Health says the following are signs of a stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body).
  • Sudden severe headache, dizziness, confusion.
  • Sudden balance, speech, or vision difficulties.

The Stroke Association uses the acronym FAST to help identify a stroke:

  • F: Face drooping to one side or numb; a lopsided smile.
  • A: Arm weakness or numbness.
  • S: Speech difficulties, such as slurring and/or trouble understanding or repeating words.
  • T: Time to call 911 if you see any of these signs (even if they go away).

According to the CDC, it’s important to call 911 rather than going to the hospital by car in the event of stroke as it gets patients to the hospital faster, gets them treatment sooner, allows timely medication administration, and possibly transports them to a hospital that specializes in stroke treatment.

6 Lifestyle Changes to Support Heart Health

There are quite a few ways to lessen your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Some uncontrollable factors like age and genetics can influence your risk, but many other factors can be controlled. Consider making these lifestyle changes:

1. Stop smoking and limit alcohol intake.

Quit smoking and encourage others in your household to do the same. Drinking too much can raise blood pressure and increase heart and stroke risk, so consider following these recommendations for alcohol intake.

2. Eat a healthy diet and exercise.

Diet is directly linked to many conditions that increase heart risk, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, and nuts while limiting red meat, junk food, and sweets. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 2.5 hours of physical activity a week. Read more about the importance of physical activity in our previous post here.

3. Control cholesterol.

Cholesterol — which is fat lodged in your arteries — could trigger a heart attack or stroke. To reduce it, lower your intake of saturated fat and trans fats and exercise regularly. If these changes don’t lower your cholesterol enough, your doctor may prescribe medication.

4. Lower your blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. To lower your blood pressure, reduce your salt intake, increase your physical activity and talk to your doctor about medication.

5. Watch your weight.

Obesity increases the risk of conditions such as high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, all of which heighten the risk of heart disease. Steps to losing weight include watching portions and creating realistic goals.

6. Manage diabetes.

People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop and die from heart disease, heart attack or stroke, so it’s extremely important to follow the treatment plan your doctor has prescribed. Regularly ensure your blood sugar is in a healthy range.

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