Heart attacks are triggered when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked, usually by a substance called cholesterol. When this happens, you have a tight window to respond because the longer you leave it, the more likely you are to suffer serious heart damage and need intensive care. The warning signs must therefore be heeded as soon as they appear.
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Most people automatically associate heart attack symptoms with the chest but it can also affect the brain.
One warning sign is delirium, a serious disturbance in mental abilities that results in confused thinking and reduced awareness of the environment.
According to Mayo Clinic, this may result in:
- An inability to stay focused on a topic or to switch topics
- Getting stuck on an idea rather than responding to questions or conversation
- Being easily distracted by unimportant things
- Being withdrawn, with little or no activity or little response to the environment.
How can a heart attack affect the brain?
The relationship between the heart and the brain is complex but one review investigating the relationship between the two explained that the heart communicates with the brain via many methods: neurologically, biochemically, biophysically, and energetically.
A heart attack interrupts these channels, and this disruption can cause delirium.
What are the main warning signs of a heart attack?
According to the British Heart Foundation (NHF), the main warning signs are:
- Pain or discomfort in your chest that happens suddenly and doesn’t go away
- Pain that spreads to your left or right arm, or to your neck, jaw, back or stomach.
- Feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath
Other less common symptoms include:
- A sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
- Excessive coughing or wheezing due to a buildup of fluid in the lungs
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“It’s possible to have a heart attack without experiencing all these symptoms, and it’s important to remember everyone experiences pain differently,” explains the BHF.
As the health body notes, for some people the pain or tightness in their chest is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable, or pain similar to indigestion.
“Heart attack symptoms can persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly,” it adds.
How can I reduce my risk of having a heart attack?
Eating a healthy diet is one of the most effective ways to prevent having a heart attack (or having another heart attack).
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The NHS says to avoid foods containing high levels of saturated fat, as they increase levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood.
LDL cholesterol is a fatty substance that sticks to your artery walls and can restrict the flow of blood being transported to your heart.
Foods high in LDL cholesterol include fried foods, sausages and fatty cuts of meat.
Instead, you should aim to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, advises the NHS.
“This means eating more bread, fruit, vegetables and fish, and less meat,” explains the health site.
It adds: “Replace butter and cheese with products based on vegetable and plant oil, such as olive oil.”
According to Victoria Taylor, a BHF dietician, research also shows that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce your risk of another heart attack.
“The traditional Mediterranean diet naturally includes most of the key diet changes that will help to keep your heart healthy,” she added.
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