Brain Injury and Heart Attack: How are They Related?

Brain damage or injury is a condition wherein the brain cells are destroyed or deteriorating. Brain injury is one of the main contributors to the huge number of disabilities and deaths in the United States every year. Brain damage happens as a result of a traumatic brain injury or acquired brain injury (non-traumatic). Depending on the severity, some patients take years to fully recover from it. In order to recover well from brain trauma, patients have to undergo different kinds of therapy from the best brain injury rehabilitation centers.

Brain injury in numbers

Brain injury occurs when there is damage to the brain that causes temporary or permanent cognitive, psychosocial, or physical impairment. It has two general types: traumatic and non-traumatic.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that there were 2.87 million incidents of traumatic brain injury in 2014. A staggering 837,000 of these cases happened in children. These numbers continue to climb every year.

On the other hand, stroke, which is one of the most common non-traumatic injuries, affects 7.8 million people. This is 3.1% of the country’s adult population

Heart attacks in numbers

A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, happens when a part of the heart is not receiving enough blood flow. The longer the heart is deprived of blood and oxygen, the greater the damage to the myocardium (heart muscle). Once damaged, the heart will be inefficient in pumping out blood.

One American suffers a heart attack every 40 seconds, according to the CDC. In fact, there are approximately 805,000 cases of heart attacks in the United States every year.

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Brain Injury and Heart Attacks: How are They Related?

A heart attack is one of the non-traumatic causes of brain injury. This means that a person having a heart attack can also suffer from a stroke and brain injury.

According to Harvard Health, the risk factors for strokes and heart attacks are almost identical. These include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle.

As mentioned previously, a heart attack happens when there is a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the myocardium. Because of this, the blood flow to the heart is cut off, resulting in tissue damage, tissue death, and altered electrical conduction. When these happen, the heart will no longer be efficient in pumping blood throughout the body.

Poor blood supply is the formula for tissue damage. This includes kidney damage and brain damage. Likewise, without the pumping movement of the heart, the blood in the blood vessels would no longer flow and will start to stagnate. In people with high cholesterol levels and diabetes, this can make the blood viscous, leading to the formation of blood clots. When these clots form, they block the artery that supplies blood to the brain tissues, which can result in an ischemic stroke.

Doctors measure the stroke risk of a heart attack patient using the CHADS-VASc assessment. If the patient belongs in risk categories 1 and 2, the patient will be given appropriate pharmacologic therapies to prevent a stroke.

The Brain and Oxygen

To better understand the relationship between heart attacks and brain damage, let’s discuss the role of oxygen. Your brain needs an adequate oxygen sypply in order to function normally. Studies have shown that brain cells die when levels of oxygen in the brain significantly drops even just for several minutes. If the brain is deprived of oxygen longer than a few minutes, brain damage can occur. This injury is referred to cerebral hypoxia or anoxic brain injury.

What Happens to the Brain After a Heart Attack?

As mentioned above, blood flow to and from the heart is cut off during a heart attack. Blood carries oxygen to the organs including the brain. So, during a heart attack, oxygen supply to the brain is also cut off. This is why around half of people who survive a heart attack often develop cognitive issues such as:

  • Memory loss

  • Anomia, which refers to the difficulty in processing the meaning of words

  • Difficulty in executive functions, including reasoning, judgment, information processing, and decision-making

  • Difficulty processing visual information

Rehab and Therapy for Heart Attack-Related Brain Injury

Heart attacks are very common. While there are ways to keep yourself healthy and reduce your risk for heart problems that may lead to a heart attack, there’s no guarantee that you won’t suffer from one. Patients who are unfortunate to experience a heart attack, but fortunate to survive it, can fully recover from the associated cognitive issues through timely and proper post acute brain injury rehabilitation, such as what we offer here at NeuLife Rehab.

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Looking for Inpatient Neuro Rehab Near Me - Learn More About Neulife Rehab - Your Right Choice!

NeuLife is a Residential Post-Acute Rehab facility specializing in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation, neurological disorder rehab and more. As one of the best brain injury rehabilitation centers in Florida, its program includes physical medicine and rehabilitation medical management, psychiatric and neuropsychological services, physical, occupational, speech, and cognitive therapies, behavioral, dietary and vocational counseling, and more. 

Beautifully situated on 43 acres in Mount Dora, Florida, its inpatient rehab facility comprises over 60,000 square feet and contains 54 private rooms or suites. 

For more information about NeuLife Rehabilitation Services, please give us a call at 800.626.3876, or visit our website. You can also make a referral or schedule a tour!

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.


Dedicated to providing the highest caliber of care to individuals with brain injuries, NeuLife Rehabilitation is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
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