The link between heart disease and stroke

Heart disease and stroke can sometimes go hand in hand. Both are leading causes of death in the United States, but in many cases, both conditions are preventable.

Many of the same healthy habits that lower your risk for heart problems can also lower your risk of stroke. Learn about the link between heart health and brain health, your risk factors, and what you can do to keep your risk low.

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What Is a Stroke?

A stroke is a serious, potentially deadly medical emergency. During a stroke, blood flow is blocked to a part of your brain, which means your brain cells can’t get the oxygen they need. When this happens, your brain cells can become damaged or even die. There are two main types of stroke, including:

  • Ischemic, when an artery that brings blood to your brain becomes blocked, usually by plaque or a blood clot
  • Hemorrhagic, when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or bursts

Stroke Symptoms

Some symptoms of stroke can include:

  • Sudden weakness
  • Numbness on one side of the face, arm, or leg
  • Trouble speaking
  • Loss of vision, double vision, or trouble seeing in one eye
  • Dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking
  • Sudden, severe headache

If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, call 911 right away. It’s very important to get treatment as soon as possible.

How Are Heart Health and Brain Health Linked?

Heart and brain health are linked by common risk factors, including:

  • Having high cholesterol
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Having diabetes
  • Not getting regular physical activity
  • Being overweight or obese

And, you may have a higher risk of stroke if you have:

  • Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which can make your blood vessels narrow or completely blocked by a hard substance called plaque.
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common kind of irregular heartbeat. With AFib, your heart can’t beat as effectively as it should, which can make it easier for blood to pool and clot.
  • Heart failure, which happens when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.


How to Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease and Stroke

If you’re not sure where to start, talk with your doctor. Have a checkup so you can learn the basic facts about your health, like your blood pressure, cholesterol level, and blood sugar level. Your doctor will ask about your medical history, your family history, and your habits to find out if you’re at risk.

There’s a lot you can do to help keep your heart, blood vessels, and brain healthy, including:

  • Eating a diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Limiting the amount of salt, fat, and sugar you eat
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Quitting smoking or using tobacco products
  • Finding healthy ways to cope with stress
  • Keeping an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar levels

To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484) and visit one of our heart screenings to gain more insight into your health.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.