You discover your neighbor lying on his porch and rush over to check him out. He’s conscious but short of breath, so you grab your cellphone and call 911. You wonder if he’s had a stroke or heart attack. When the paramedics arrive and examine your neighbor, you overhear the words “myocardial infarction.” As they load the patient into the ambulance, the paramedics inform you that he had a heart attack. She tells you where they are taking your neighbor and the emergency vehicle speeds away.
This patient was fortunate to have a good neighbor. Many stroke and heart attack victims pass off the symptoms as something minor, and the majority delay getting medical attention for three to six hours. As the optimum time to begin treatment is within an hour of the signals’ onset, valuable time is all too often lost and the chances of survival and recovery are reduced.
Heart Attack or Stroke?
So how can you tell if you or someone else is having a heart attack or stroke, and is it possible to differentiate between them? Both disorders have a major common cause: a clot restricting blood flow to a vital organ. It’s also possible for an artery to the brain to rupture. Since the organ involved isn’t receiving the oxygen-rich blood it needs, heart muscle and brain cells begin to die. Even though their trigger is usually the same, symptoms and prevention of each vary.
Heart Attack Symptoms
• A sporadic or constant sensation of pressure, squeezing, and pain in the chest that ranges from barely noticeable to excruciating
•Difficulty breathing and giddiness
• Neck, back, stomach, jaw, and/or arm pain
• Nausea or a cold sweat
Women have a whole separate set of prominent symptoms that can warn of heart disease weeks before the actual attack:
• Indigestion/like abdominal discomfort
• Upper back, neck, or arm pressure
• Actual indigestion and nausea
People need not wait until middle age to think about preventing heart disease. Twenty-somethings should begin taking steps to ensure heart health.
• Eat right. A high-fiber (think chickpeas and quinoa), low-fat diet rich in fresh fruits, veggies, and fish like salmon will keep the ticker strong and arteries clear and supple.
• Pop some pills. Some heart vitamins and minerals include right amounts of Vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, and selenium. Fish oil is chock full of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Ask your doctor if a daily baby aspirin is right for you.
• Get moving. 30 minutes of exercise works wonders for the cardiovascular system and keeps cholesterol and blood pressure in check. You’ll also shed any unwanted pounds.
• Check your blood. High cholesterol levels and elevated blood pressure are possible indicators of future heart problems.
• Manage Stress and Moods: Practice relaxation. Do some deep breathing. Talk out your problems and seek help for depression.
When blood flow to the brain is restricted, this sudden lack of blood flow is called a “stroke”. A stroke brings on a completely different set of symptoms. Unlike heart attack symptoms, indications of a stroke in progress are usually quite immediate. They include:
• Excruciating headache that can’t be attributed to any other cause
• Difficulty speaking and/or understanding others
• Weakness or loss of feeling in the leg, arm, or face, particularly on one side
• Dizziness or difficulty maintaining balance or walking
• Double vision or problems seeing with one or both eyes
A word of caution: Many stroke victims mistake their symptoms for vision issues, and diabetics tend to associate muscle weakness, dizziness, and mental confusion with low blood sugar. Because signs mimic those of other conditions, it’s all the more important to be cognizant of stroke symptoms.
Fortunately, some steps that reduce the risk of stroke are the same as those which can ward of heart attacks.
• Check your blood pressure and cholesterol: Elevated numbers of both are prime indicators of potential brain attacks.
• Stamp out smoking: This habit causes more than lung cancer; it’s linked to high blood pressure, clogged arteries, defects in blood vessel walls. A smoker’s heart works harder to pump blood.
• Exercise and diet: Getting moving and reducing intake of calories, salt, and animal fats and cholesterol will keep arteries clear and strong.
• Manage other conditions: Diabetics have a higher risk, so keeping the condition under control is vital. It’s also important to treat circulation problems and severe anemia.
• Learn about transient ischemic attacks: These brief episodes (lasting anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours) mimic strokes but usually don’t result in permanent damage. It’s important to be aware of and treat the condition: as many as 40% of individuals experiencing a TIA may develop a full-blown stroke.
Now that you are heart-attack and stroke savvy, you’re in a position to not only offer assistance but be at the forefront of prevention of these devastating events.