Heart Disease and Stroke -The Connection of the Heart to the Head

Written by: Dr. Chris Mason, D.O. Western Regional Medical Director

Every four minutes someone dies from a stroke.
It is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. The recent numbers form the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2018 recognize the increasing number of Americans at risk for heart attack and stroke. While February is Heart Month, it’s important to remember coronary heart disease and stroke share many of the same risk factors and stroke IS a risk factor for heart diseases. There is a connection between the heart and the head.

Time Matters

For every minute a stroke is left untreated, up to 2 million brain cells die. Recognizing the signs is important and there’s an easy way to remember the most common symptoms if you just think F.A.S.T.

  • Facial droop: One side of the face droops or feels numb.
  • Arm weakness: Weakness or numbness on one side of the body.
  • Speech difficulty: You have trouble expressing or understanding speech.
  • Time to call 911: If you experience any of the symptoms above, call emergency services

Since strokes are often not associated with pain, people often dismiss the signs and wait for the symptoms to pass. With each passing minute, brain cells are dying that will never be recovered. The answer is not to ignore; it’s to call 911.

Knowledge is Power

When treating a suspected stroke, care coordination between EMTs and Emergency Departments is critical. EMT’s are trained on how to perform a quick assessment which then kicks off a protocol in the ED. Once in the ED, knowledge of medical history and lifestyle habits, especially if there is a family history of heart disease and diabetes are vital information that inform treatment decisions.

Stroke does not Discriminate

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in women and the fifth leading cause of death in men. Men aged 45 and older, post-menopausal women, are among the group with the highest risk, yet strokes can happen at any age to anyone. As one of the country’s biggest killers and the leading cause of disability, stroke causes damage to individuals and their families and two thirds of survivors suffer a disability, cutting careers and impacting lifestyles.

Coordination, Collaboration and Communication

Are essential when it comes to treating the multiple types and severities of stroke. Starting with education, PSA’s support the public on stroke symptoms and the importance of seeking treatment immediately. Training EMS, and working with hospital leadership to outline appropriate protocols, based on their facility size and resources enables quick, life-saving decisions to be made and timely treatment to be administered.

When a stroke strikes, every minute matters. Time is brain.


  • Heart Attack Emergency Treatment, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), www.upmc.com
  • Every Minute Counts, Today Show, Dr. Natalie Azar, NBC News Medical Contributor
  • Let’s Talk About: Stroke Diagnosis, American Heart Association
  • Acute Ischemic Stroke, Vanderbilt University, Dr. R. Jason Thurman, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine/Neurosurgery, November 2013
  • More Than 100 Million Americans Have High Blood Pressure, American Heart Association, January 31, 2018
  • Overall Heart-Healthy Diet is More Important Than Occasional Indulgences, American Heart Association, 2017