COVID-19 pandemic highlights importance of maintaining healthy routines to help reduce risk of another heart attack or stroke
After a heart attack or stroke, as many as 1 in 4 survivors will have another one. However, lifestyle changes and working closely with your doctor to manage your health may minimize the risk of a repeat event. Sticking to secondary prevention routines – by eating healthy, being active and taking medications as prescribed – is more important than ever as cases of COVID-19 increase.
“A heart attack or stroke can be a very scary experience, and many patients try to avoid revisiting that difficult time,” said neurologist Lee Schwamm, MD, chair of the American Stroke Association and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School “Unfortunately, the risk of a repeat stroke is high, and lifestyle changes to reduce a person’s risk are almost always necessary to reduce those odds.”
Up to 80% of second clot-related strokes and heart attacks may be prevented by making healthy choices to help prevent another event. Consider these tips from the American Stroke Association’s secondary heart attack and stroke prevention initiative, sponsored nationally by Bayer.
Blood Pressure: Work with your health care provider to ensure you’re maintaining a healthy blood pressure level below 130/80. High blood pressure is both a leading cause and major risk factor for stroke and heart attack.
Cholesterol: Medication and healthy lifestyle habits can help keep high cholesterol in check. High cholesterol increases the risk of blocked arteries. If an artery leading to the brain becomes blocked by a clot, a stroke can occur and a blockage to the heart may cause a heart attack.
Blood Sugar: Having diabetes, which is caused by high blood sugar, more than doubles your risk of stroke. Some people have diabetes and don’t know it until a medical emergency happens.
Medications: If you are prescribed medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, make sure you take them as prescribed. If you had a clot-related stroke or a heart attack, your doctor may recommend aspirin to help prevent another event.
Aspirin is not appropriate for everyone, so talk to your doctor before beginning an aspirin regimen.
Smoking: If you smoke, stop. If you don’t, don’t start. Smoking increases the risk of stroke and heart attack because it damages blood vessels, which can lead to blockages.
Physical Activity: Being physically active at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week or 150 minutes per week is recommended by the American Stroke Association. Physical activity reduces the risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Even as COVID-19 cases strain emergency medicine, calling 9-1-1 still provides access to life-saving treatments for people experiencing medical emergencies like heart attacks or strokes. Emergency medical responders can assess symptoms, begin treatment and transport the patient to the most appropriate hospital, if necessary. The most common stroke symptoms can be remembered using the acronym F.A.S.T. for face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulty and time to call 9-1-1. Common heart attack symptoms are chest, neck, upper back and jaw pain; shortness of breath; nausea or lightheadedness.
Based on current information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it appears people 65 and older and people of any age with underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are more likely to be infected and to develop more severe symptoms. Stroke survivors may face increased risk for complications if they get COVID-19.
Find more resources to help manage your risk at stroke.org/oneisenough.
Know the warning signs for a stroke
Even as COVID-19 cases strain emergency medicine, experts say calling 9-1-1 is still the best way to access life-saving treatments for people who are experiencing heart attack or stroke symptoms.
Heart attack and stroke are medical emergencies. If someone is experiencing stroke or heart attack symptoms, they should still call 9-1-1. Emergency medical responders can assess their symptoms, begin treatment in the ambulance, and transport the patient to the most appropriate hospital, if necessary.
• Hospitals have plans in place to keep potentially contagious patients away from others and keep surfaces clean. Calling 9-1-1 and activating Emergency Medical Services (EMS) will ensure that you have the best possible chance to beat a heart attack or stroke. EMS can begin treatment in the ambulance and take you to the hospital best suited to care for you in an emergency.
• As many in the nation face extended time at home, it is possible that heart attack or stroke warning signs may go unnoticed. It is important to check on those who live alone, regularly. Speaking on the phone or video calls can give important clues about common stroke warning signs.
• Stroke warning signs can be remembered using the acronym F.A.S.T.:
o F – Face drooping
o A – Arm weakness
o S – Speech difficulty
o T – Time to call 9-1-1
• Heart attack warning signs include:
o Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return.
o Discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
o Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
o Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.