Can Heart Attack Cause Brain Damage?

There are thousands of heart-related fatalities each year across the globe, particularly in the United States. Though some patients with heart conditions can recover and resume their daily routine, others may take years to recuperate fully. In some cases, heart attack can leave a devastating effect on the brain.

Heart attacks can cause brain damage because the condition can trigger lose of gray matter in the brain and a reduction in mental processes.

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How is Brain Injury and Heart Attacks Related?

Having heart attack exposes a person to stroke and brain injury. The risk factors of heart attack and stoke are nearly same, with some being diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, hypertension, cigarette, smoking, and sedentary are inactive lifestyle.

Heart attack occurs when there is an obstruction in the artery that supplies blood to the heart muscles. This automatically shuts off blood flow to the heart, leading to tissue damage, tissue death, and distorted electrical conduction. As a result, the heart no longer pumps blood all through the body leading to tissue damage.

Now, when the heart stops pumping blood, the blood in the blood vessels stops flowing and begins to stagnate. The blood supply becomes thick in people with high cholesterol levels and diabetes, causing a person’s blood to clot.

The formation of blood clots leads to blockage in the artery that supplies blood to the brain tissues. This can trigger the onset of an ischemic stroke.


What Happens During a Heart Attack?

When the blood that supplies oxygen to the heart is obstructed, this can lead to heart attack. Coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart can constrict due to accumulation of fat.

The formation of blood clot around the substance and limited blood flow is restricted to the heart muscle when an artery breaks.

Every part of the body, including the brain needs sufficient supply of oxygen to function efficiently. Brain cells begin to die when oxygen supply drop below the recommended level for several minutes or longer. If the condition persists for an extended time, it can lead to permanent brain injury, also called anoxic brain injury.

There are four types of anoxia, and each of them can lead to brain damage. A study by Sweden’s Lund University concluded that most heart attack survivors experience memory loss, attention problems, and other cognitive problems. A long-term effect of heart attack on the brain’s mental functions can result to dementia.

Brain scans performed in several studies established that heart disease and heart failure may result to losses of gray matter in the brain which are vital for a range of cognitive functions, which in turn lead to anomia, memory loss, problems with sight, and issues with reasoning, judgment, and processing information.

What are the Effects of Heart Attack on Brain?

The heart and brain requires sufficient supply of oxygen for both organs to function effectively. A decline in levels of oxygen causes the brain cells to gradually die, leading to hypoxia or anoxia if the condition is left to persist.

The National Institute of Health (NIH), reports that heart failure is linked to the loss of cognitive functions within the brain, including:

  • Loss of Memory
  • Visual problems
  • Inability to communicate 

Heart attack causes patients to lose the ability to recollect short term memories.  This is because the hippocampus (part of brain responsible for learning and remembering new data) is interrupted by the oxygen deficiency.

For visual problems, victims of heart attack may have difficulty processing objects before them. This is because the white matter of the brain is affected during the heart attack.

Inability to communicate properly or loss of language abilities may come up after heart attack. The patient is unable to communicate their thoughts and may find it difficult to retain information on common phrases.

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There may be no definite ways to put a stop to heart attack, but there are some ways you can prevent it from happening or cut down the risk factors.

One of the major ways of maintaining your cognitive aptitude is to reduce your major cardiovascular risks. Some of this prevention tips include;

  • Quit smoking
  • Engage in regular physical activity
  • Maintain healthy weight
  • Consume healthy, balanced diet
  • Manage blood sugar
  • Check blood cholesterol levels.

To cut down your risk of heart attack, it is essential to keep your blood pressure in check. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the major cause of stroke. It helps to fuel the growth of micro-injuries in the white matter of the brain.


Permanent brain damage can be avoided if immediate treatment is carried out to restore normal oxygen supply to the brain. Treatment for brain damage caused by heart problem depends on the cause of the anoxic injury. Treatment options may include;

  • Managing the heart rate and rhythm.
  • Breathing support through the use of mechanical ventilation and oxygen.
  • Using medications like valproic acid, phenobarbital, or phenytoin

The recovery time greatly hinges upon the duration of time the brain was without oxygen supply. The patient may be able to fully regain function of the brain if the oxygen supply was blocked for a short duration. However, recovery from brain injury may be impossible if it takes longer time for oxygen to be restored. The longer a person is without oxygen, the higher the consequences, including permanent brain damage or even death.

Normally, cardiologists use the CHADS-VASc assessment to compute the stroke risk of a heart attack patient. For patient in risk categories 1 and 2, he or she will be administered proper pharmacologic treatment to avert a stroke.

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In Conclusion

The degree of brain damage caused by heart attack depends on the time frame the brain is without oxygen. Therefore timely treatment of a heart attack case is exceedingly vital to cutting down the risk of long term brain damage.

It is also important to note that as we grow older, the increase in years can affect our brain function, but most of this degeneration is expected and can be linked to normal aging.

However, when our thinking and reasoning gets progressively fuzzier with an accompanying forgetfulness, then this can be linked to an early form of dementia known as mild cognitive impairment. More often than not, we immediately assign these changes to the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease. However, problems with blood flow may be responsible.


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