Stroke and coronary heart disease (CHD) are two distinct conditions, but they have more in common than you might think.
The main distinctions between stroke and coronary heart disease lie in how they develop and which parts of the body they affect.
Most strokes occur when a blood clot forms in an artery that delivers blood to the brain or the clot travels to one of those arteries from elsewhere in the body.
In either case, the result is the same: The clot prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching the brain, causing tissue death. Less commonly, stroke might occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, flooding the brain with blood.
Coronary heart disease affects the arteries of the heart rather than those of the brain. It develops over time as plaque accumulates and narrows the arteries – a process called atherosclerosis. If an artery is so affected that little or no blood reaches the heart, a heart attack can occur.
... But related
If you have atherosclerosis in your coronary arteries, chances are good that arteries elsewhere in your body – including the cerebral (brain) arteries – have experienced narrowing, too.
Stroke and heart disease share risk factors that contribute to atherosclerosis, including smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. Blood clots that travel to the cerebral arteries and cause strokes most often originate in the heart. Other forms of heart disease, such as atrial fibrillation and heart failure, can also increase stroke risk.
If you modify these risk factors, you might be able to protect yourself from two serious health threats.
Shared need for speed
One characteristic shared by stroke and heart attack – one of the most serious consequences of coronary heart disease – is the importance of seeking swift treatment when symptoms appear.
With heart attacks, most experts agree that permanent tissue damage begins to occur if the heart is deprived of oxygen for more than 20 minutes. The quicker doctors are able to remove the obstruction in a patient’s artery and restore blood flow to the heart, the better.
Similarly, during a stroke, the longer the brain is without oxygenated blood, the more cells die and the more likely irreparable damage becomes. Individuals who have the most common type of stroke have a three- to 4½-hour window of time after symptoms appear to receive a medication to dissolve a blood clot and have a greater chance of successfully recovering.
If you suspect you or a loved one is having a stroke, don’t waste a precious second. Call 911 immediately.
Heart disease and stroke have a tragic connection: They are both among the top five leading causes of death for American women, ranking first and fourth, respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Gaurav Patel is board certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine. He is associated with Carolinas Medical Alliance-Cardiology, an affiliate of Carolinas Medical Alliance, and is on the medical staff of Carolinas Hospital System. He is accepting new patients. To refer a patient or make an appointment, call 843-674-4787or visit CMACardiology.com. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information and facilitate conversations with your doctor that will benefit your health.