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Heart Attack and Stroke: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

A heart attack and stroke are both potentially life-threatening conditions that require emergency medical care. Combined, the two conditions affect 1.5 million people each year. Both heart attacks and strokes can cause permanent damage to important organs, affecting quality of life and even causing death. Though a heart attack and stroke have several things in common, their symptoms, treatment, and recovery are different.

Causes of heart attacks and strokes

Atherosclerosis is a buildup of fatty plaque in arteries that can block blood flow.The majority of strokes and heart attacks are caused by a disease known as atherosclerosis. This causes a buildup of a substance called plaque inside blood vessels.

Over time, the plaque can harden and break off, causing a blood clot to form on top of the plaque. The clot can block the blood vessel and starve vital organs of oxygen.

During most heart attacks, one of the heart’s blood vessels, known as a coronary artery, becomes blocked by a clot. Part of the heart muscle rapidly loses its blood supply and may become permanently damaged.

Similarly, a stroke is often caused by the blockage of a blood vessel leading to the brain, known as a carotid artery. The clot robs the the brain of its vital blood supply and can lead to brain damage.

Heart attack symptoms

Chest pain is one of most recognized symptoms of a heart attack. While it is the most common symptom, many people who experience a heart attack have little to no chest pain. These people may not realize they are having a heart attack or seek medical care as quickly as needed.

There are many other symptoms of heart attacks as well as chest pain. These symptoms may include:

  • A feeling of pressure, fullness, or squeezing in the chest
  • Pain in the jaw, neck, arms, back, or stomach
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Feeling lightheaded or fainting
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea or vomiting

Women are more likely than men to experience nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and jaw pain.

Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek care immediately. They are also advised to sit down and take aspirin.

Stroke symptoms

There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Most people who have strokes have an ischemic stroke. These are usually caused by a blood clot in one of the brain’s blood vessels. A hemorrhagic stroke is not caused by a blockage or plaque but by a burst artery.

A stroke can begin to damage the brain rapidly, leading to permanent disability or death. Stroke symptoms come on quickly, often with no warning. They may include:

  • Drooping on one side of the face or being unable to move one side of the face
  • Weakness or numbness in one arm – the person may be unable to raise both arms evenly out to their sides
  • Slurred speech or difficulty talking – the person may not be able to repeat simple words or sentences clearly
  • Loss of vision in one eye
  • Loss of balance, falling, or dizziness

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) or “mini-stroke” produces symptoms just like a stroke, but they only last for a few minutes before going away. A TIA does not permanently damage the brain but they should not be ignored. About a third of people who have a TIA will have a stroke within a year.

Anyone who experiences possible stroke symptoms should see a doctor immediately, even if they come and go quickly.

Heart attack and stroke treatment

Many heart attacks and strokes are caused by blocked arteries and blood clots. As a result, their treatment may be alike in several ways.

In both cases, a patient may receive clot-busting medicines in the hospital known as thrombolytics. These help dissolve the blood clot and restore blood flow to the affected organ. These medicines usually need to be given as soon as possible after symptoms begin, or at least within a few hours.

Clots in the coronary or carotid arteries may also be physically removed using an endovascular procedure. This is a non-surgical procedure that uses a thin tube to grab the clot and remove it or push it out of the way. Examples of this procedure are:

  • Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) for heart attack
  • Mechanical thrombectomy for stroke

Not all patients are candidates for a clot-removing procedure. If it is performed, it should be done as soon as possible after symptoms appear.


Source: Medical News Today.

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