Can A Heart Attack Cause Brain Damage | Brain Damage From Heart Attack

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Can a heart attack cause brain damage? What are the symptoms of heart attack-caused brain damage? How is the condition treated?

Learn the answers to these questions and more with our comprehensive guide below.

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Can a Heart Attack Cause Brain Damage? | Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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What Is a Heart Attack?

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A heart attack, otherwise known as a myocardial infarction, happens when part of the heart muscle does not receive enough blood.

The damage to the heart muscle becomes greater as more time passes without proper blood flow being restored to it.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is one of the main causes of heart attacks.

Severe spasms or sudden contractions of a coronary artery can also stop blood flow and, in some cases, lead to a heart attack.

Some major symptoms of heart attacks include the following:

  • Chest pains or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or discomfort in the shoulders or arms
  • Pain or discomfort in the back, neck, or jaw
  • Light-headedness
  • Sudden and unexplained vomiting, nausea, and tiredness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least one American suffers a heart attack every 40 seconds.

In the United States alone, there are approximately 805,000 cases of heart attacks every year, making it one of the leading causes of death in the country.


What Happens Within the Body During a Heart Attack?

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Heart attacks happen when oxygen-carrying blood that goes to the heart is significantly reduced or cut off.

Fat buildup and other substances can cause the blood-supplying coronary arteries to narrow.

Once an artery breaks, a clot forms around the substance, restricting blood flow to the heart muscle.

Tissue damage, altered electrical conduction, and tissue death are often results of this restricted blood flow. In turn, the heart loses its efficiency when pumping blood throughout the body.

When dealing with heart attacks, the speed of the response is crucial for survival.

Without immediate treatment, sudden heart attacks may lead to death or damage to other parts of the body.

Some of the most commonly affected organs include the kidneys and the brain.

Can A Heart Attack Cause Brain Damage?

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According to a 2020 study, the brain needs sufficient oxygen supply for it to function normally, so much so that even a small amount of oxygen deficiency can cause it to react sensitively.

Just a few minutes of a significant drop in oxygen levels in the brain can cause a person's brain cells to die.

Any more and the person risks significant brain damage. This kind of injury is called an anoxic brain injury or cerebral hypoxia.

Cerebral hypoxia happens when the brain does not receive enough oxygen.

Anoxia, on the other hand, refers to when the oxygen supply to the brain is cut off completely.

Most healthcare professionals use the terms together and simply refer to the condition as a hypoxic-anoxic brain injury.

Apart from heart attacks, other things may cause cerebral hypoxia such as:

  • Suffocation, choking, or strangulation
  • Electrocution
  • Drowning
  • Head injury
  • Stroke and arrhythmia
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning or the inhalation of smoke
  • Severe blood loss
  • Substance use disorder
  • Anesthesia problems or surgical complications

Though there are some treatments to help people who have cerebral hypoxia-caused brain injuries, no treatments are available that can reverse the injury itself or bring back dead brain cells.

Can a heart attack cause brain damage? The condition often leads to lifelong brain damage, and, if left untreated, may be fatal.

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What Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Hypoxia?

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People who are experiencing cerebral hypoxia may present the following symptoms:

  • A grayish or bluish tint to the lips and skin
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Disorientation and slurring of words
  • Seizures, convulsions, or dilated pupils
  • Unresponsiveness when called or asked to do simple tasks like moving their hands

On the other hand, those who recover from cerebral hypoxia may still experience lifelong problems like:

  • Changes in personality
  • Memory loss or cognitive impairment
  • Inability to focus
  • Problems with walking, coordination, or balance
  • Swallowing, speech, and vision problems

According to the Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital, half of all survivors of heart attacks experience at least one of these long-term problems.

Attention problems, memory loss, and other cognitive issues are some of the most common lasting effects of heart attacks on a person's mental functions.

These are caused primarily by the loss of gray matter in the brain, which is crucial for a lot of cognitive functions.

In rare cases, the damage to the brain may even cause dementia.

How Is Cerebral Hypoxia Diagnosed?

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Now that we know that heart attacks can cause brain damage, it is important to know how to diagnose them. How exactly is that done?

Cerebral hypoxia is diagnosed through a series of tests ordered by a healthcare professional. Some of these tests include:

  • Angiography – This allows doctors to check the amount of blood flowing to the brain
  • MRI or CT scan – This checks for brain swelling, signs of stroke, bleeding in the brain, and other kinds of trauma.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) – This measures electrical activity that is present in the brain.
  • Evoked potentials test – This helps assess the response of the brain to sensations such as touch.

What Treatments Are Available?

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Cerebral hypoxia is a medical emergency that requires a quick response.

If you think someone may be suffering from a heart attack or any injuries that may have restricted blood flow to the brain, make sure to call 911 as soon as possible.

Immediate treatment that restores the oxygen supply to the brain needs to be applied for these kinds of problems.

The sooner that oxygen supply is restored, the lower the risk of long-term brain damage.

The type of treatment will depend on the cause of the injury.

These treatments may include:

  • The use of oxygen and mechanical ventilation to help with breathing
  • The use of medicines like phenobarbital, phenytoin, valproic acid, or general anesthetics
  • Controlling the heart rate and rhythm

Treatments for long-term brain injuries, however, will vary depending on the severity and kind of brain damage that happened.

This may include lifelong medications and physical therapy.

Of course, as with any of these diseases, the best treatment is always prevention.

Make sure to reduce your risk of having heart attack-induced brain damage by getting regular checkups, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting vices like drinking and smoking, and generally living a heart-healthy lifestyle.

 Can a heart attack cause brain damage? Check out this video courtesy of BRIGHT SIDE for a list of foods that reduce the risk of a heart attack:

Can a heart attack cause brain damage? The short answer is yes. Make sure to know the symptoms of heart attack-induced brain damage so you know how to address it. Better yet, start living a heart-healthy lifestyle so you can lower your risk of developing the condition altogether.

What do you think is the best way for you to take care of your heart?

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