Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stroke vs. Heart Attack...Do You Know the Difference?

After writing my last post about heart disease or cardiovascular disease, I realized that I hear many people use the words stroke and heart attack interchangeably, as if they are the same.  But in all reality, a stroke has to deal with your brain (tissue damage to your brain), while a heart attack has to deal with your heart (tissue damage to your heart)...which sounds pretty simple...but it gets a little more complicated and simplified in that strokes and heart attacks are both usually caused by a process called "Atherosclerosis".

So...What is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is the process of one's large arteries (the vessels that carry blood from the heart to all of our other organs) becoming narrow due to the accumulation of cholesterol plaque and/or thrombus (blood clots).  So imagine, a water hose being connected to your house in order to transfer water from the water tank to any place within your yard.  Now, depending on where you live your water supply may have a number of chemicals or organic particles that are normal for your home location.  Due to a number of factors like the material of the hose you use, the length of the hose, the force of which your water supply flows through the hose (I could go on and on with listing the factors) all contribute to a build up of elements along the inside of the hose that decreases the internal diameter of the hose, and affects the passage of the water traveling through the hose.  Over time, the build up within the hose gets thicker and your water doesn't make it to its destination as fast or as forceful as it once did.  This ultimately leads to the hose becoming completely blocked causing it to burst or causing the water to flow backwards.  At any need a new hose!

This same idea can be applied to our arteries in that blood that has circulated through our body in order to supply our organs with nutrients and oxygen, returns to the right side of our heart, the right side of our heart then sends the blood (that has little to no oxygen remaining in it) to our lungs where oxygen is added and the newly oxygenated blood is then pumped to the left side of our heart.  At the end, the left side of our heart pumps the newly oxygenated blood into our body circulation to delivery nutrients and oxygen to our entire body.  Sooooo, by the time the blood has completed an entire body circulation cycle it reaches the right side of our heart to start the oxygenation cycle all over again.

Blood flow through the heart. (, 2015)

So, your arteries are the hoses and your heart is the water tank, and due to a number of individual factors such as genetics, diet, exercise, etc. your arteries begin to accumulate build up that narrows the passage way of your blood (oxygen, nutrients, etc.) circulation through your body.

Narrowing of Artery, Atherosclerosis.  (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2014)

Stages of Atherosclerosis. (, 2015)

Stages of Atherosclerosis. (, 2015)

As soon as atherosclerosis begins it becomes open season for complications throughout your body.  This is the reason behind preventative health measures such eating healthy, exercising, etc., as these actions help minimize the risks for atherosclerosis that we can control.

The Infamous "Heart Attack"
In the medical world heart attacks can be referred to as "Myocardial Infarction" or an MI (total blockage of an artery), or "Angina Pectoris" (partial blockage of an artery) and they occur when a coronary (related to the arteries that supply and surround the heart) artery becomes blocked, leading to prolonged restriction of blood supply to tissue, cell death, and infarction (tissue death due to lack of oxygen) to the heart wall (Gould & Dyer, 2011, pp. 287-290).

Warning Signs of Heart Attack. (Gould & Dyer, 2011, pp. 291)

If you experience ANY of the above symptoms, IMMEDIATELY call 9-1-1, as the size of the blockage, the location of the blockage, as well as the amount of passed since symptom onset; determine the severity of damage done to your body.  Also, if blood supply can be restored within the first 20-30 minutes, irreversible damage may be prevented (Gould & Dyer, 2011, pp. 291).  If action is not taken fast enough the area of tissue death tends to increase or spread.  The faster you seek medical help, the better chances of survival!

The Infamous "Stroke"
In the medical world strokes can be referred to as "Cerebrovascular Accident" or a CVA (total blockage of an artery) and they occur when carotid (related to the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your face, scalp, and neck) or cerebral (related to the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the cerebrum of your brain) arteries become blocked, leading to tissue death, irreversible nerve cell damage, and empty cavities in the brain.  The causes of strokes are thrombus, embolus, or hemorrhage.

Types of Strokes. (Gould & Dyer, 2011, pp. 487)

Atherosclerosis in Carotid Artery. (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2010)

The symptoms of a stroke are as follows:

Warning Signs of Stroke. (Gould & Dyer, 2011, pp. 488)

The Common Link...
Even though strokes and heart attacks are not the same, their common factor is atherosclerosis!  So, why not just minimize your chances of getting atherosclerosis??!!  SCORE!!!!!!! drizzle on this parade...both stroke and heart attack have other predisposing factors that can not be mitigated AND there are predisposing factors of atherosclerosis.  Hooooowwwwever, there are more modifiable factors for atherosclerosis than non-modifiable factors!

Modifiable and Non-Modifiable Factors of Atherosclerosis. (Gould & Dyer, 2011, pp. 287-288)

Now that I have overloaded you with so much information, I think it's fair to say that preventing negative obstacles is key with respect to anything we treasure in life.  If there is a small possibility that I can plan ahead and prevent health issues prior to experiencing the negative external symptoms, then in my mind I have won a small battle.  Unfortunately, in most cases by the time we experience external symptoms, the internal damage has already been done.  So, just keep this information in mind the next time you are presented with a "red or blue pill"...yes...I love The Matrix ;)  Feel free to comment and share this post.  Until next time!

Gould, B. E., & Dyer, R. M. (2011). Pathophysiology for the Health Professions. St. Louis, Missouri, USA: Saunders Elsevier.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2014, April 4). Explore Atherosclerosis. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2010, November 1). Explore Carotid Artery Disease. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: (2015, January 1). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from (2015, February 12). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from (2015). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from