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Heart-Stroke Connection

Heart attack and stroke share some significant characteristics, including who is at risk.

The risk factors for heart attack are generally diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, smoking, obesity and heredity. Those are risk factors for stroke, as well.

In other words, if you’re at risk for heart attack, you’re likely at risk for stroke, too. Those who have had a heart attack because of atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries — are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke than those who have not had a heart attack, according to the American Stroke Association. Hardening of the arteries results from plaque buildup. If this buildup develops in the heart’s arteries, it’s likely to develop in other areas of the body as well.

The good news is that taking steps to lower your risk for heart attack also will lower your risk for stroke, and vice versa. Following are actions to take for overall cardiovascular health.

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking is extremely damaging to your cardiovascular system. Even light smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke raise your risk for heart attack and stroke. Talk to your doctor about quitting, and politely excuse yourself when others light up.
  • Eat more of the right foods. Loading up on fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals can help keep blood pressure under control. Fiber from unrefined whole grains has positive effects on cholesterol, and omega-3 fatty acids from fish help keep your arteries clean.
  • Get active. Regular exercise not only helps prevent heart attacks, but better fitness also helps increase the chance of survival if a heart attack does happen. Remember, some physical activity is better than none. For major health benefits, do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Do the activity for at least 10 minutes at a time, and spread the activity throughout the week.
  • Get checked. It’s impossible to know if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol just by how you feel. See your doctor for regular checkups so he or she can spot warning signs of cardiovascular disease early and treat it.