How a Heart Attack Can Cause Cognitive Decline Years Later

How a Heart Attack Can Cause Future Cognitive Decline

Our blood is tasked with a number of incredibly important jobs. Among them, it transports oxygen and nutrients to virtually every part of our bodies, helping every organ system to function its best. As expected, when blood flow is diminished or interrupted such as during a heart attack, the consequences can be serious. What may be unexpected, however, is that some consequences can be delayed, even by years.

In fact, a recent study revealed that people who experienced heart attacks and other heart or blood flow problems were at nearly twice the risk for measurable cognitive decline years down the road. For women, the risk was about three times higher, suggesting a stronger heart-brain connection. 

The resulting condition, termed vascular dementia, is attributed to insufficient blood flow to the brain. It is marked by problems with reasoning, the ability to make decisions, and comprehending spatial relationships. Vascular dementia is not characterized by memory loss, as with other forms of cognitive decline.

While this is troubling news, the good news is that there are steps we can take to minimize our risk for heart disease and heart attack – and therefore vascular dementia – because vascular dementia risk factors are so closely related to heart health. You can keep your heart – and your blood – in tip-top shape by:

  • Eating a heart healthy diet. Foods to enjoy include plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean meats and fish, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Limit red meat and sugary treats.
  • Getting enough exercise. Try to get your heart pumping for 30 minutes most days during the week with activities like walking, swimming and bicycling. Gardening, cleaning the house and other similar activities count, too! You can also work out in shorter bursts throughout the day if you’re pressed for time. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Nearly three-quarters of all American adults are overweight, so it’s easy to see we all need to do a better job at reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. When we are overweight, we are more at risk for high blood pressure and diabetes, which can lead to heart attacks and heart failure.
  • Cutting out smoking. Smoking causes several vascular issues, speeding up your heart and constricting major arteries. It can even cause an irregular heartbeat and an increase in plaque deposits in your blood vessels.

For those with high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol issues, following your doctor’s treatment plan for controlling these conditions is also essential for preventing heart attack to minimize your risk for vascular dementia. For those without known heart risks, seeing your primary care physician for routine checkups can help you spot potential troubles early on and receive any age-appropriate heart health screenings you might need to keep your heart and brain health at their best.

Whether you have been diagnosed with heart disease or any risk factor for heart attack, if you experience heart disease symptoms or any of the following heart attack symptoms, be sure to come to Avail Hospital right away to be assessed for a potential heart attack:

Pain or pressure in the lower chest/upper abdomenChest pain or tightness
IndigestionJaw, neck, arm or back pain
Jaw, neck or upper back painShortness of breath
Chest pain (sometimes)Nausea or vomiting
Shortness of breathStomach pain or heartburn
FaintingUnusual fatigue
Extreme fatigue
Nausea or vomiting

Seeking treatment right away at the first signs of heart problems can help us provide treatment as soon as possible to minimize any damage to your heart and vascular system – and your brain. The heart-brain connection has never been clearer. That means taking care of your heart health is taking care of your brain health, and that’s something we take to heart.

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