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Heart Disease and Stroke

National Wear Red Day coincides with American Heart Month, a time to bring awareness to reducing heart disease and stroke risk.

Heart disease and stroke share common risk factors

February 2, 2018 is National Wear Red Day, coinciding with American Heart Month, a time to bring awareness and provide education for reducing risk of heart disease and stroke. On one hand, heart disease is a leading cause for death in the United States of America, and on the other hand, stroke is a leading cause of disability in the United States. Both heart disease and stroke are linked together by common risk factors, which increase the likelihood of having a heart attack or a stroke.

Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, the most common of which is coronary artery disease, in which the blood flow to the heart is blocked or decreased. Coronary artery disease can sometimes cause a heart attack, which can be fatal. Stroke, on the other hand, occurs because of a blockage in the blood vessels of the brain, which leads to low flow to an area of the brain. This low flow to the local area in the brain leads to a reduced oxygen and sugar supply to the brain cells in that area, causing injury to the brain.

Since the brain controls our strength, facial movement, sensation, movement, speech, vision, coordination and balance, symptoms affecting any of these areas can happen when a stroke occurs. The type of symptoms depends on the area of the brain affected.

Minutes matter with heart attack and stroke

Time is critical with the sudden presentation of symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. There are crucial treatments if implemented right away that may reduce the death rate associated with heart attacks. There are also specific treatments that may reduce disability in stroke, if enacted promptly. This is why it is important to know and be able to recognize the symptoms of heart attack or stroke, in order to seek immediate medical attention.

Call 9-1-1 immediately if experiencing any of the following symptoms:

Heart Attack

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats


  • Sudden paralysis or weakness of one side of the face
  • Sudden weakness or paralysis in the arm and/or leg on one side of the body or both sides
  • Sudden loss of sensation or numbness on one side of the face or body or limbs
  • Difficulty with speech (slurred speech) or language (difficulty finding words and expressing them or understanding what is being said)
  • Sudden difficulty with vision or loss of vision
  • Sudden double vision
  • Sudden dizziness or vertigo (perception of movement or spinning) with or without nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden difficulty walking or sudden loss of balance with or without nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden clumsiness in the arm or leg, or problems with coordination
  • Sudden loss of consciousness
  • In rare cases, sudden onset repetitive limb jerking, convulsion, or sudden abnormal movements (with or without loss of consciousness or impairment of cognition)

Using the acronym F-A-S-T can help you spot stroke symptoms:

Face: Does the person have facial weakness or drooping on one side when he/she smiles?

Arm: Does one arm drift downward when the person is asked to elevate both arms?

Speech: Does the person have difficulty producing speech and repeating sentences?

Time: Time is critical and time is brain. Every minute counts. If the person shows any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Stroke and heart disease are preventable

Blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, are all risk factors for both heart disease and stroke. Moreover, heart disease is a risk factor for stroke, as clots can originate from the heart and sometimes migrate to the vessels of the brain causing a stroke. Approximately 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, each day. What many people don’t know, however, is that stroke and heart disease are both preventable.

Measures you can take to decrease your risk of having a stroke or a heart attack include:

– Ask your primary care to identify your risk factors, and treat them appropriately with your physician’s help.

– Monitor your blood pressure at home. If your physician has prescribed them, take your blood pressure medications. A good goal for blood pressure may be less than 130/80 mm Hg.

– Stop smoking.

– Ask your physician to check your cholesterol, and control your cholesterol with diet and by taking the cholesterol medication as determined by your physician.

– Seek evaluation for symptoms of heart disease such as chest pain and shortness of breath especially on exertion, and get the appropriate treatment.

– Lower your weight and if you are diabetic, control your diabetes.

– Exercise. Physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.

– Seek evaluation and treatment for possible obstructive sleep apnea if you snore or gasp during sleep – especially if you are tired and sleepy during the day.

– Stop illicit drug use and reduce your alcohol intake one or less drink per day for women and 2 or less drinks of alcohol per day for men.

Eat a healthy low salt, low fat, low trans fats, low saturated fat, low to no added sugar diet, and of you are a diabetic, apply a diabetic diet as well. Fat used in diet should be the healthy fat such as the natural omega-3-fatty acids found food in items such as salmon and nuts, and mono-unsaturated fats found in things such as olive oil. Cut down on red meat and do not eat fried food. Remember, you can prevent heart disease and stroke.

Studies have shown that by treating risk factors, taking the appropriate stroke prevention medications and adhering to lifestyle and diet changes, 80% of second strokes can be prevented.

To learn more, view Dr. Lama Al-Khoury’s profile.

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