If your arteries become blocked, blood circulation is reduced and may suddenly stop. Depending on where the blockage occurs you could have a heart attack or a stroke. Since they both have the same cause (arterial blockage) the recommendations for avoiding a heart attack are the same as for a stroke.
What Is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack occurs when blood vessels that supply blood to the heart are blocked, which prevents enough oxygen from getting to the heart. If the flow of blood isn’t restored fast enough, the section of your heart muscles becomes damaged from lack of oxygen and may die. Doctors call this a myocardial infarction.
According to the NIH, “Heart attacks occur most often as a result of a condition called coronary artery disease (CAD). In CAD, a fatty material called plaque (plak) builds up over many years on the inside walls of the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your heart). Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture, causing a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the part of the heart muscle fed by the artery.”
What is a stroke?
A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs when blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted, causing brain cells to die off. When blood flow to the brain is hindered, oxygen and glucose cannot be delivered to the brain. Blood flow can be compromised by a variety of mechanisms.
A stroke will most likely occur as a result of a condition called hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) leading to the brain During a stroke, blockage of a main artery that is in your neck leads to the death of cells in the brain. Blockage of even just a single arteriole can affect a tiny area of brain causing that tissue to die (infarct).
Symptoms of a heart attack or stroke
Heart attack warning signs
The American Heart Association and other medical experts say the body likely will send one or more of these warning signals of a heart attack: IF YOU NOTICE ONE OR MORE OF THESE SIGNS IN YOURSELF OR OTHERS, DON’T WAIT. CALL EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES (9-1-1) RIGHT AWAY!
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
- Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms. The pain may be mild to intense. It may feel like pressure, tightness, burning, or heavy weight. It may be located in the chest, upper abdomen, neck, jaw, or inside the arms or shoulders.
- Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
- Anxiety, nervousness and/or cold, sweaty skin.
- Paleness or pallor.
- Increased or irregular heart rate.
- Feeling of impending doom.
When to contact your doctor
Not all of these signs occur in every attack. Sometimes they go away and return. If some occur, get help fast. IF YOU NOTICE ONE OR MORE OF THESE SIGNS IN YOURSELF OR OTHERS, DON’T WAIT. CALL EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES (9-1-1) RIGHT AWAY! In the event of cardiopulmonary arrest (no breathing or pulse), call 9-1-1 and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.
Stroke Warning Signs
If you notice one or more of these SIGNS in yourself or others, don’t wait. Stroke is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 or your emergency medical services right away.
The American Stroke Association wants you to learn the warning signs of stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries. In atherosclerosis, plaque builds up in the walls of your coronary arteries. This plaque is made up of cholesterol and other cells. A heart attack (a stroke if it’s an artery leading to the brain) can occur as a result of the following:
- The slow buildup of plaque may almost block one of your coronary arteries. A heart attack may occur if not enough oxygen-containing blood can flow through this blockage. This is more likely to happen when you are exercising.
- The plaque itself develops cracks (fissures) or tears. Blood platelets stick to these tears and form a blood clot (thrombus). A heart attack can occur if this blood clot completely blocks the passage of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.
You will be hospitalized and doctors will do the best they can to recreate adequate blood flow.
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