Heart attack and stroke – know the symptoms

Did you know heart disease and strokes are the leading cause of death in people living with diabetes? The good news is that there are many things that you can do to control your diabetes, reduce your risks and stay healthy.

How does diabetes affect your heart?

Heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death in people living with diabetes. The constant high blood glucose causes damage and narrowing of the blood vessels, increased blood triglycerides (a type of fat), decreased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.

People living with diabetes are also more prone to the development of atherosclerosis and blood clots. Diabetes also accelerates the damage done by smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Diabetes can even affect the heart muscle itself, making it a less efficient pump. As diabetes can affect the nerves to the heart, symptoms of angina may not be felt in the usual way and may be passed off as indigestion or an upset stomach. This leads to delays and difficulties in diagnosing angina and heart attacks.

As you can see, diabetes increases the risk of stroke and heart disease, especially if other risk factors are already present. The risks multiply!

So, prevention is key. Up to 80% of heart disease and strokes that happen before the age of 70 years can be prevented by simply living a healthy lifestyle and treating conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Knowledge is also vital and the best knowledge you can equip yourself with are the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and stroke so that if ever you are in a situation, you are armed with what to do.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack

Not all people experience the same symptoms when they suffer a heart attack. Sudden chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack. In some cases, mostly women or people with diabetes, a heart attack can happen without any chest pain.

Chest pain can also be caused by several other conditions that affect the stomach, chest wall, muscles or lungs. Ambulance staff or a doctor can do the necessary tests to find out if chest pain is caused by a heart attack.

Below are the common symptoms of a heart attack. You may experience only one or several of these symptoms during a heart attack.

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back.
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

If you are in doubt, get checked out.

Signs and symptoms of a stroke

Because stroke is usually not painful, patients may ignore the signs or symptoms and not seek medical attention, in the hope that they will improve. Acute stroke or TIA should be treated as a medical emergency and should be evaluated as soon as possible.

  • Weakness/numbness or limited movement to the affected side.
  • Memory loss/confusion, impaired thinking the loss of concentration.
  • Speech difficulties, (talking or understanding speech).
  • Visual disturbances.
  • Inability to control bowel or urine activities.
  • Loss of balance and difficulties in walking.

FAST is a simple way to remember the signs of a stroke and to seek medical help urgently.

F – Face drooping

A – Arm weakness

S – Speech difficulty

T – Time to call emergency medical services 

FACE: ask the person to show their teeth or smile and see if one side of the face droops or doesn’t move as well as the other side does.

ARMS: ask the person to lift both arms up and keep them up and see if one arm doesn’t move or drifts downward when extended.

SPEECH: ask the person to repeat a short sentence (e.g., “it is a sunny day in Cape Town”) and see if the person uses the correct words without slurring.

TIME: make a careful note of the time of onset of symptoms and call for help urgently if you spot any one of these signs.

For more information go to www.heartfoundation.co.za or find us on Facebook @HeartStrokeSA or on Twitter @SAHeartStroke

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