Getting prompt and effective heart attack treatment may help you avoid complications that can affect brain functions such as memory, focus, and decision making.
There is a common expression among health experts that “
However, the reverse is also true. What harms the heart may also harm the brain.
A heart attack, which injures heart tissue and can reduce healthy heart function, may also cause brain damage and affect a person’s long-term cognitive health. Signs that cognitive decline may be underway include:
- changes in memory
- inability to pay attention
- difficulty making decisions
If you can respond quickly to heart attack symptoms and take the necessary steps to restore healthy heart function, you may be able to prevent or at least reduce any damage to your brain and thinking skills.
A heart attack can damage the brain because it reduces the heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood to organs, muscles, and tissue throughout the body, including the brain. Without enough oxygen and other nutrients, brain cells start to die, and the functions those cells were responsible for — such as thinking or speaking — will diminish.
They suggest that a heart attack may be associated with brain damage because certain risk factors for heart attack, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation, can also negatively affect brain health.
A heart attack can also raise the risk of depression, which may lead to brain damage. The trauma of a heart attack and the prospect of diminished health or the reminder of a person’s mortality can contribute to the onset of depression after a heart attack.
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Initial changes in brain function after a heart attack may be subtle. It’s also worth noting that some changes in memory and thinking skills are normal as you get older and are not signs of brain damage or dementia.
However, symptoms that could indicate post-heart attack brain damage and that should be evaluated, according to the
- confusion with time and place, such as knowing what day it is or feeling lost in familiar surroundings
- difficulty making decisions and using poor judgment
- increased problems with balance and coordination
- memory loss that interferes with everyday functioning, such as forgetting appointments
- trouble with basic tasks, such as home finances and executing favorite recipes
Certain aspects of brain damage that develop after a heart attack may be reversible with healthy lifestyle behaviors.
For example, stress management may help reduce inflammation in the brain and therefore enhance recovery after a heart attack.
Other steps you can take to help recover from brain damage after a heart attack include behaviors that support both brain and heart health, such as:
- staying physically active, such as exercising all or most days of the week
- following a heart-healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains and limits processed foods, saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars
- keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose (blood sugar) levels in healthy ranges
- getting quality sleep for 7–9 hours a night
Some brain damage after a heart attack is common. Quickly receiving treatment to restore healthy heart function can help avoid or limit damage.
You can also preserve brain health by taking steps to reduce inflammation like following a heart-healthy diet. Adopting other heart-healthy behaviors like managing stress and staying active will support optimal brain health, too.