Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States today. Stroke is the third—and a major cause of disability.

If you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack or stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. A victim's chances of survival are increased if emergency treatment is given as soon as possible.

Heart Attack Symptoms

A heart attack involves discomfort or pain in the center of the chest:

  • Chest pain (pressure, squeezing, fullness, or sharp)
  • Upper body pain (Arms, shoulders, back, neck, teeth or jaw)
  • Stomach pain
  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light-headed or dizzy
  • Sweating Nausea and vomiting

Note that symptoms of a heart attack in women may not be as typical (e.g., sharp chest pain, pain down the arm, shortness of breath) as they often are in men. Women need to be aware that dull, aching chest pain, that goes to the jaw, with nausea and dizziness, may be a heart attack and not just indigestion, especially if it lasts longer than a few minutes.


A stroke occurs when there is not enough blood supply to your brain. Strokes are caused by one of the following:

  1. A blood clot blocks an artery from providing blood to your brain
  2. A blood vessel (tube) breaks, interrupting flow of blood to your brain

When your brain does not get enough blood, no oxygen is getting to your brain, brain cells begin to die. Abilities once controlled by the affected area in the brain will be lost. Frequently, this affects your speech, movement, and memory.

The National Stroke Association developed the FAST test to help determine if a person is suffering from a stroke:

F = Face Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A = Arms Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S = Speech Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?

T = Time If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 or get to the nearest stroke center or hospital.

Stroke Symptoms

Stroke symptoms come on suddenly:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of coordination or balance Severe headache

I Have Had a Stroke

If you are a stroke survivor, work closely with your doctor and follow your doctor's guidance. Your risk of having another stroke is high, so work with your doctor to control this risk through medication, nutrition, mental activity, and physical activity.

You may need to re-learn basic skills in rehabilitation, like eating, dressing, and walking. Know that you are not alone. In the United States, some 6.5 million people like you have survived a stroke. Be sure to connect with other stroke survivors—the support you receive from your peers will help you heal.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Coronary artery disease (CAD) develops when cholesterol-containing deposits (plaque) build up and block your coronary arteries. These arteries supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients. Your arteries get narrower as they get blocked by plaque. Without enough blood, your heart muscle can weaken. This can lead to problems with your heartbeat. When plaque completely prevents an artery from carrying blood/oxygen to your heart, a heart attack will occur.

CAD causes chest pain and shortness of breath because the heart is not getting enough blood. Without blood, there is no oxygen, which the heart muscle needs to function. CAD is the main cause of heart attacks.

Coronary Artery Disease Tests

Your doctor can determine your risk for developing CAD by knowing your family history of heart disease, and by checking your blood pressure, cholesterol level, and blood glucose. If you are concerned about your risk for CAD, talk to your doctor about which tests might be right for you.

I Have CAD

Follow your doctor's advice and lower your risk for worsening your condition or having a heart attack. Typical recommendations include diet control, exercise, and quitting smoking. Your doctor may also recommend medications to help reduce your cholesterol, high blood pressure, or an irregular heartbeat.

If you have had a heart attack due to CAD, your heart could still be damaged. This will put you at greater risk for another heart attack. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your condition, and follow your doctor's advice.