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Stroke & Heart Attack; What You Need to Know

Stroke and Heart attack are among some of the leading causes of death in our country.  Though they are looming threats, it’s amazing how many people still do not know the warning signs to look for, or what to do if they suspect one of these major health events.  This may be due to our unwillingness to admit to our own mortality, or simply because you’ve never taken the time to adequately understand the implications of not knowing.  Either way, it’s always good to be prepared, even if you can’t control every outcome in life.  You could do a great deal of good for another human being if you know the signs of these life threats and what to do if you suspect them.

We’ll start with a heart attack, which is known medically as a myocardial infarction.  In bygone eras, if a person had a heart attack most likely meant that the person was going to pass away.  Now, however, with the advance of technology and more understanding of the heart muscle & how it interacts with the rest of the body, many people recover and go on to live healthy, long lives!  It is worth knowing and looking for the signs of heart attack so you’ll be prepared to call for help if you or a loved one should need it in the future.

Heart attacks generally present with some sort of pain in the chest that radiates down the left arm especially.  But do not be fooled into looking only at this as an indicator.  Shortness of breath, as if the person cannot get enough oxygen, and cold sweats are other indicators in almost everyone.  Some differences may be found in the ways that men and women experience heart attacks.  Myocardial infarctions in women are sometimes less pronounced in acute pain and more extreme in discomfort.  The female patient may feel nauseous.  She may also feel the pain closer to her stomach or in her back as this is located close to the heart.  Additionally, she may feel pain in her jaw and neck, dizziness or extreme fatigue.   Regardless of gender, people generally will present with pain, cold sweats and shortness of breath.  If you experience any of these symptoms, seek help immediately.

What can they do for a person who is having a heart attack?  They will most likely perform surgery which has the goal of opening whichever artery is closed. The sooner this occurs, the better.  If it occurs quickly, there are better chances of more of the heart muscle being saved and operational.  Obviously, the more of the muscle that is saved, the better life quality and recovery will be from that point forward.  Recovery is possible.  There may be lifestyle modifications, such as dietary changes or daily medications, but recovery is possible.

A person experiencing a stroke has a completely different list of criteria to look for than a heart attack, even though they MAY both be caused by blockages of blood flow (there are several different possible causes for both). Whereas a myocardial infarction affects the heart, a stroke affects the brain.

The end goal with a patient experiencing stroke is the same as one experiencing a heart attack, get help IMMEDIATELY!  The faster they are in, the less damage to the brain & the greater chance of recovery.  The brain needs oxygen in order to function properly.  If it is not able to reach all areas of the brain because a blockage or a hemorrhage, the parts of the brain that are closest to the disturbed area will begin to die off first. In stroke patients, every single minute matters for recovery.  If the patient is diagnosed and operated on quickly, however, they may well be able to recover and live full, productive lives.

Signs of a stroke are a sudden paralysis or limpness of a part of the body, like an arm, leg or face.  If this occurs on only one side of the body, it is a high indicator. If the person has sudden problems with speaking or with their vision or is suddenly confused it can be another indicator. Also, if someone has a sudden onset of difficulty with walking or balance.  If this has occurred, even if it passes and the person goes back to normal, please get it checked out immediately.  If a stroke has occurred, it is more likely to occur again.  A doctor is the only one who can say if it has happened and if it would be worse next time.  They’d also be able to decide whether surgery is necessary and if medication is recommended to prevent further episodes.

These things are scary to think about, but if you know how to identify when it’s time to call for help, you can greatly increase the chances of survival and recovery for the person you’re helping, even if that person is you!



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