What causes a heart attack or a stroke? We assume that when people suffer either that they live a harmful lifestyle. For example, they overindulge in fatty foods, or don’t get enough exercise.
But, people who seem perfectly “healthy” experience them too.
How can a person pass a physical with flying colors, and then have a stroke or heart attack a day or two later? The answer lies within. When seemingly healthy or unhealthy people have a heart attack or stroke, the underlying issue is the same…clogged arteries.
It is important to understand the difference between a heart attack and a stroke. While they may have similar symptoms and effects, they are completely different. A heart attack occurs when blood can’t circulate to the heart due to plaque. Plaque is the yellowish fatty deposits that narrow or block the coronary arteries. This is called atherosclerosis. Pieces of plaque can break free and cause blood clots. The blockage keeps blood and important nutrients from the heart muscles. The muscles become damaged or die. It is also called a myocardial infarction.
Heart attacks can also be caused by a spasm in the coronary artery. This is a tightening of the artery. Cocaine and other drugs like it may cause such a spasm. The coronary artery may tear. The medical name for this is a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. A person may be susceptible to a heart attack if they go into shock. During shock, blood flow to the heart is significantly decreased. Another type of heart attack is called a coronary embolism which occurs when blood clots or tumors break free from other places in the body and travel to the heart.
When part of the brain dies due to interrupted blood flow, it is known as a stroke. It is also called a “brain attack”. There are two classifications of strokes: the ischemic and hemorrhagic. The ischemic stroke is caused when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. A stroke caused by a temporary clot is a transient ischemic attack or a mini stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when a vessel bursts and bleeds, this is an aneurysm. An abnormal mass of vessels can form in the brain, and when one bursts, it is called an AVM or arteriovenous malformation. This is the second type of hemorrhagic stroke.
There are some important aspects to take into consideration when assessing your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Smoking, obesity, diabetes, and cholesterol play key roles in determining your risk factors. Family history also plays a major role for both. This means a person can be extremely health conscious, but if there is a history in their family of either, they are still at risk. Race and gender are where the risk factors for strokes and heart attacks differ. African Americans have a higher risk of coronary artery disease and more severe cases of high blood pressure. Men are more prone to have heart attacks at an earlier age. Women during any age are more susceptible to death from a stroke.
Screening helps your health-care provider catch cardiovascular problems early on. Your doctor can get you on a regimen to lower these risk factors. They will tell you to stop smoking, eat healthier, and get more exercise. If needed, they will also prescribe medications to help you control health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes.