Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one person dies of a heart attack every 40 seconds.

Not all heart attacks are fatal. More than 805,000 incidents of heart attacks occur each year, with 647,000 cases resulting in death. In many of these cases, heart attack victims go on to recover and resume their everyday lives. Unfortunately, others will have to deal with the lingering physical effects of the heart attack on brain tissues.

Brain Injury & Heart Attacks: How are They Related?

The relationship between a stroke and brain damage is well-established. In a stroke, plaque buildup or blood clots in blood vessels cut off the blood supply to the brain, which damages oxygen-deprived brain tissues. Not many know about the effects of a heart attack on brain tissue function.

A heart attack, known medically as a myocardial infarction, is a condition that occurs when the heart doesn’t receive enough oxygen. A lack of blood flow often causes this to the heart due to the narrowing of the arteries. The arteries may then break due to the intense pressure exerted on their walls, causing a blood clot to form.

The resulting blood clot that forms cuts off the blood supply to the heart. Similar to what happens to the brain during a stroke, oxygen-deprived heart tissues are damaged, causing the organ to lose some of its functionality. When this happens, the heart is unable to pump blood that supplies oxygen to the brain, causing damage to the brain, referred to as a heart attack acquired brain injury (ABI).

How Common Is Brain Damage After A Heart Attack?

Heart attacks are one of the most common causes of nontraumatic brain injuries. The brain cells, called neurons, require a constant supply of blood and oxygen in order to maintain their function. When this supply is cut off, damage to the neurons occurs almost instantaneously. 

Cases of brain damage from a heart attack are quite common among heart attack victims. A recent study found that the blood flow among 50% of people who had a heart attack decreased significantly, leading to extensive cognitive impairment.

What Happens to the Brain After a Heart Attack?

The brain needs a continuous supply of oxygen throughout the blood to maintain the neurons’ function. The longer the brain goes without oxygen, the more extensive the damage will be.

In a report published by the National Institute of Health, a heart attack can lead to a severe loss of cognitive functions within the brain. This is why most heart attack victims exhibit the following symptoms of brain damage after a heart attack:

  • Loss of Speech Abilities: Many heart attack patients find it challenging to adequately convey their thoughts through speech. Aside from their difficulties in controlling their ability to speak, many find it difficult to remember common words or phrases and may instead use words outside the proper context. 
  • Memory Loss: Oxygen deprivation in the brain disrupts the part of the brain in charge of learning and recalling new information, resulting in short-term memory loss.
  • Visual Impairment: Brain damage from a heart attack may also affect the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information. As a result, victims often find it difficult to see or process objects in front of them.

Can a Heart Attack Cause Permanent Brain Damage?

The amount of time the brain goes with low or no oxygen will determine the severity of the damage to the brain. As more time passes, more brain cells will continue to die, resulting in the loss of gray matter.

In many cases, ABI can be reversed when immediate treatment is given. However, after an extended period, the injuries to the brain become permanent.

In the event of a cardiac arrest, the timeline for immediate care is significantly less. When the heart has stopped, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) must be administered within two minutes. Any delay of more than three minutes can lead to brain injuries that worsen considerably as time passes. 

Symptoms of Brain Damage After a Heart Attack

The effects of a heart attack on the brain can differ, depending on the affected region, and can manifest in many ways. Some symptoms of brain damage after a heart attack may include the following:

  • Impaired mobility
  • Loss of dexterity
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Disorientation
  • Poor concentration
  • Delayed response
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Severe fatigue
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Frequent headaches
  • Issues with balance and coordination
  • Double vision
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Impaired hearing
  • Emotional and behavioral changes
  • Drastic changes in personality
  • Seizures

It can be challenging to predict whether symptoms that manifest are temporary or permanent. It is crucial to seek a complete evaluation with your physician to get a full picture and understand your options for treatment or rehabilitation.

Treatment and Rehabilitation After a Heart Attack & Brain Injury

Some people who suffer from a heart attack may be fortunate enough to survive and recover from ABI in just a few weeks. However, some who suffer more severe forms of brain injury may require different forms of therapy for rehabilitation, which include physical, cognitive, speech, and occupational therapy.

Undergoing therapy can help heart attack survivors regain their strength and relearn skills they’ve lost. Complete recovery may still be possible through proper post-brain-injury rehabilitation. For others who suffered permanent brain damage, the goal of rehabilitation is not to fully recover but to learn how to adapt to their new circumstances and regain their independence. 

Gain Access to Specialized Post-ABI Care with Moody Neuro

Since 1982, Moody Neuro has been at the forefront of innovation in providing quality post-ABI treatment and rehabilitation. Working with a team of experts who genuinely care about your well-being, we strive to achieve the best outcome by developing a personalized treatment plan that addresses your limitations.

Discover holistic care that aims to maximize your quality of life after a life-changing event. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can tackle your challenges together.


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