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Many individuals have a family history of heart attack and stroke. However, in general, the risk of having a heart attack or stroke increases with age.
While you can’t alter your family history, you can take measures to prevent such attacks by monitoring the triggering factors.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of the different causes, signs, and symptoms of heart attack and stroke. Simple dietary changes, daily exercise, and other healthy habits can help conserve your heart health for long.
Meaning of Heart Attack and Stroke
A heart attack (1) occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. Without oxygenated blood, the heart muscle begins to die.
A stroke (2) is a brain attack that is brought on when the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain gets cut off. A stroke happens when a blood vessel feeding the brain gets clogged or bursts.
Causes and Risk Factors for Heart Attack and Stroke
The causes of heart attack and stroke are similar, yet diverse. Both share many of the same risk factors, the leading ones (3)(4) being:
- High blood pressure
- High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
- Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure
- Unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Family history
- Vascular disease
But there are some differences, too, including the following:
- Men tend to have more heart attacks and strokes than women and have them at an earlier age. However, women (5) are more likely to die from such events. (6)(7)
- African Americans have a more severe high blood pressure than whites (8) and higher rates of atherosclerosis as a result.
- Other ethnic groups with higher rates of obesity and diabetes are at increased risk for both heart attack and stroke, including Mexican Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders. (9)
Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack and Stroke
A heart attack commonly is typically characterized by feelings of chest pressure or tightness, which is often accompanied by a squeezing or aching sensation in the chest or arms that may spread to the neck, jaw, or back.
Other prominent symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
Strokes manifest quite differently and are recognized by the rapid onset of neurologic deficits, including:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion
- Trouble speaking
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination
Tips and Remedies to Preserve Your Cardiovascular Health
The American Heart Association recommends the following 8 steps to help reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke.
1. Know your risk level
Since the chances of having a heart attack or stroke increases with age, it is recommended to use an electronic risk calculator if you are above 40 years. This device helps estimate your risk of cardiovascular events in the next 10 years.
Moreover, being aware of other risk factors, such as kidney disease, family history, and smoking, (10) can help you take the necessary precautions, lifestyle changes, and treatment.
2. Consume a healthy diet
It is recommended to include vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, plant-based proteins, legumes, fish, and lean animal proteins in your diet. Additionally, limit your intake of carbohydrates, sweetened beverages, sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and processed meats.
3. Be physically active
You should get around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Increase your intensity gradually to reap more benefits. (11)
4. Watch your weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to your cardiovascular health. Lose weight by consuming fewer calories and increasing your exercise if you are obese or overweight. You can also consult a doctor for a weight loss plan. (12)
5. Live tobacco-free
Avoid the use of cigarettes, vape, or other tobacco products. If you are a regular user and have trouble quitting, you can take the help of proven methods and ask your friends for moral support. It is also important to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. (13)
6. Manage your health conditions
If you have hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, or other health problems, it is vital to manage them with doctor-recommended medications and lifestyle changes.
7. Take your medicine
Do not avoid any medications that you have been prescribed for your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, or other health conditions. Consult your doctor about the use of aspirin as a preventive measure if you have suffered from a stroke or heart attack.
8. Be a team player
Your health care providers can recommend various medications and lifestyle changes to help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. However, it is up to you to follow them religiously.
Be open to your doctor about any problems you are facing, including sleep, stress, family situations, mental health, social support, and food access. This helps them to structure your healthcare plan around your personal needs.
Recommended Dietary Changes to Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight cardiovascular disease. The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight.
- Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods.
- Choose a diet that emphasizes the intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grain.
- Include low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts in your diet.
- Limit intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats.
It is important to maintain a healthy weight and coordinate your diet with your physical activity level, so you’re using up as many calories as you take in.
Expert Insights and Guidelines Regarding Heart Attack and Stroke
Several non-traditional risk factors are important to be considered for heart health.
While diet recommendations are fine, they don’t account for the fact that your foods are no longer rich sources of nutrients as they were for past generations.
Crops are now modified genetically, grown in nutrient-poor soil, and incorporate toxic pesticides. People are also exposed to an abundance of toxins through drinking water, which is often contaminated by heavy metals, chloride, fluoride, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and other synthetic chemicals.
These chemicals, particularly the toxic halides (fluoride, bromide, chloride), can accelerate the process of atherosclerosis, (14) hastening the occurrence of both heart attack and stroke.
- You must ensure that your drinking water is properly purified and sufficiently alkaline and energized.
- You should also use daily nutritional supplements to help your body cope with various toxins and to compensate for nutritionally deficient foods.
Caution: Always consult your doctor before taking any supplements and stick to the recommended dosages to avoid toxicity.
Heart attack and stroke are common problems, with one out of every four patients having a high risk of having another attack later on. However, up to 80% of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented with medications and healthy lifestyle changes.
Therefore, it is vital to consult your doctor and build a hearth healthy plan that involves a balanced diet, physical exercise, weight maintenance, and the use of medication.
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