According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 859,000 Americans die of heart disease, stroke, or another cardiovascular disease every year. Because February is American Heart Month, it’s the perfect opportunity to look at how neurological health and heart health are connected. For instance, heart disease and stroke are closely linked in many ways.
High Blood Pressure
According to data from the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, about 78 million US adults have high blood pressure. That’s around 1 in 3 American adults. Only about half of these people have their high blood pressure under control. Approximately 7 in 10 people who have a first heart attack and 8 in 10 people who have a first stroke have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to several factors, including diets high in sodium.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease because it damages the lining of the arteries. When the arterial linings are damaged, it is easier for plaque to build up in the arteries. As for what plaque is and where it comes from, look no further than high cholesterol.
High LDL cholesterol, often referred to as “bad cholesterol,” can double a person’s risk of heart disease. Excess cholesterol combines with calcium and other substances in the blood to form plaque that builds up inside blood vessels and blocks blood flow. Blocked arteries can have negative effects on the heart, brain, kidneys, and other organs. It is also dangerous when blood flow to the legs decreases. Millions of adults in the US have high LDL cholesterol but only about half of them are effectively managing it with medication.
There is also “good” cholesterol in the blood, called HDL. Having high levels of HDL in your blood is not a cause for concern. In fact, it’s considered a good thing. It is thought that HDL carries LDL out of the blood and into the liver. Having healthy HDL levels may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Diabetes can negatively affect many major organs in the body. It increases the risk of stroke and heart disease, and another cardiovascular disease called peripheral artery disease (PAD). It is also linked to kidney disease, vision loss, nerve damage, and high cholesterol.
Being Overweight or Obese
People who are overweight or have obesity, have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke than people of normal weight. Risk factors like high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, and type 2 diabetes are also much higher among obese individuals.
Smoking has an extremely negative effect on overall health, especially cardiovascular health. Smoking causes many cases of heart disease and stroke. This is because it damages the cardiovascular system, the neurological system, and pretty much every other body system. Smokers have stickier blood that is more likely to clot. Clots can block blood flow to both the heart and brain, causing heart attack and stroke. Smoking also raises triglycerides and lowers healthy cholesterol in the blood. It also increases the buildup of plaque in blood vessels. This prevents blood flow and decreases circulation. Smokers may also have thicker and narrower arteries and veins.
Having a healthy diet can reduce a person’s chances of getting heart disease. A healthy diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins and limits saturated and trans fat, added sugars, and sodium.
Exercise can also help lower risks of heart disease and stroke. Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease and stroke even if they do not have any other risk factors. Exercise along with a healthy diet can help combat obesity and reduce the complications of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
At Regional Neurological Associates in New York, we have board-certified neurologists who are experts in the treatment and management of neurologic conditions, including strokes. If you want to learn more about how your heart health may affect your neurological health, call (718) 515-4347 to make an appointment.