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Heart and Stroke: The Connection

If you have heart disease, you are at risk for stroke. Likewise, those who have suffered a stroke are at risk for heart disease. Learn the similarities and differences between these two related conditions and how to prevent them.

Healthy Living

Heart disease and stroke are two of the most widespread conditions in the United States, affecting hundreds of thousands of people each year. Yet, in many cases, both diseases can be prevented. By understanding how heart disease and stroke are related, including their shared risk factors, you can reduce your chance of illness and improve your quality of life.

About heart disease and stroke

Heart disease is a condition that results from improper functioning of the heart. It can be due to genetics or may develop gradually over time. There are several types of heart disease. Some affect the structure of the heart, such as the arteries or valves, while others disrupt the heart's rhythm. Although heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, people who are affected can often manage their condition through diet, exercise and medication.

Stroke is a condition that affects arteries leading to and within the brain. It occurs when blood flow to the brain is compromised, depriving the cells of oxygen and permanently damaging them. This can result in a number of consequences depending on what area of the brain is damaged and how badly. Many people recover from stroke, some do not survive and others survive with some type of disability.

The connection

You may have heard heart disease and stroke mentioned together before, and for good reason. Heart disease and stroke share an important connection: People with heart disease are at a higher risk for stroke, and people with stroke have a higher risk of heart disease. The two conditions also share many of the same risk factors, including:

  • High LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity

A growing problem

Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 5 causes of death in the United States, respectively. Each year, more than 801,000 American lives are lost due to heart disease, and another 133,000 are claimed by stroke. According to 2017 statistics from the American Heart Association:

  • 790,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack each year.
  • 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year.
  • Heart attacks strike someone in the U.S. about once every 40 seconds.
  • Someone in the U.S. has a stroke about once every 40 seconds.
  • About 92.1 million Americans are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the aftereffects of stroke.
  • Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S.

Warning signs

The signs of heart disease and stroke can vary from person to person. If you notice any of the following in yourself or a loved one, seek medical attention immediately.

Act FAST

If you think someone may be having a stroke, use this simple test:

Face
Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?

Arms
Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech
Ask the person to correctly repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred?

Time
Call 911 immediately if the person shows any of these symptoms.

Learn about our Comprehensive Stroke Center.

Signs of heart attack

  • Fatigue
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Nausea or indigestion
  • Shortness of breath

Heart attack is the most serious manifestation of heart disease. Symptoms of heart attack can occur suddenly, or they may last for several days, weeks or months. Women often have different symptoms from men.

Signs of stroke*

  • Severe headache
  • Weakness on one side
  • Numbness on one side
  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Inability to speak or understand
  • Severe dizziness
  • Facial droop

*Symptoms appear suddenly.

Tips for prevention

Although heart disease and stroke are life-threatening, many lives can be saved with preventive action. Remember the motto, "What's good for the heart is good for the head," when looking to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • Eat a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables. Reduce your consumption of added sugars, fats and sodium. Keep processed foods like chips, crackers and frozen meals to a minimum. For heart-healthy meal ideas, see our list of recipes.
  • Exercise daily. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity for adults. Strength training is also recommended twice per week.
  • Keep your weight in check. Maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk for developing heart disease and stroke. These tips can help you get started.
  • Know your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are precursors for heart disease and stroke. Likewise, high blood sugar can indicate diabetes, which also increases your risk. Discuss your levels with your physician to find out if they are within a healthy range.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking can increase your blood pressure and HDL cholesterol. If you have never smoked, don't start. If you are a smoker, talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement options and medication.