The Connection Between Your Heart and Brain
Nelson Mandela said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” This is especially true inside the body, because your heart and your brain are more intricately connected than you may realize.
Your brain’s autonomic nervous system signals your heart to pump its oxygen-rich blood, and your heart responds by delivering blood to your entire body, including to your brain. But certain factors can affect how well this process works. If your brain does not receive enough oxygen from your heart, you may experience symptoms ranging from fuzzy thinking to a life-threatening stroke.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain becomes interrupted or blocked by a blood clot or plaque that has broken away from an artery or valve and is floating in the bloodstream. The resulting lack of oxygen can cause brain cells to die, leading to symptoms of dementia, disabilities, or even death.
Fortunately, the steps you can take to protect your heart are also ways to protect your brain.
A key factor in keeping your brain working well is to reduce your major cardiovascular risk factors. This includes:
- Getting regular physical activity, as recommended by your doctor
- Quitting smoking (or don’t start)
- Managing your cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight
- Keeping blood pressure under control
Managing your blood pressure is especially important, because high blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. It also may cause tiny lesions in the brain that can slow your thinking and progress to a loss of brain function in the future.
Steps to Take During Heart Surgery
If you are facing heart surgery, such as a valve replacement, it is all the more important to consider ways to protect your brain.
Valve replacement procedures, such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), can be lifesaving interventions. They correct restricted blood flow caused by a narrowing or obstruction of your heart valve. However, during valve replacement, small particles of debris can break loose and find their way into the blood vessels of your brain.
Fortunately, modern technology has an answer. During a TAVR procedure, your doctor may recommend the option of using an embolic protection system such as the Sentinel® Cerebral Protection System. Sentinel filters your blood, capturing tiny pieces of debris that may be released during TAVR, which may reduce the risk of stroke by up to 70% during and after the procedure. If you or a loved one will be undergoing TAVR, ask your Heart Team if embolic protection is an option for you.
Knowledge is Power
What is good for your heart is good for your brain. Understanding the unique relationship between your heart and brain, and taking steps to protect both of these vital organs throughout life, is important for lifelong health.
- American Heart Association. Protect Your Heart, Protect Your Brain. Published online May 16, 2016. Available at: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/UnderstandingRisk/Protect-Your-Heart-Protect-Your-Brain_UCM_439306_Article.jsp#.Wl9sVjdOmM8. Accessed January 16, 2018.
- Corliss J. Heart disease and brain health: Looking at the links. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Published online November 9, 2016. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heart-disease-and-brain-health-looking-at-the-links-2016110910582. Accessed January 16, 2018.
- Daemen MJAP. The heart and the brain: an intimate and underestimated relation. Neth Heart J (2013) 21:53–54.
- The 3rd International Conference on Heart and Brain, Paris, February 25-27, 2017. The Connection Between the Heart & the Brain. Available at: http://www.ichb2016.kenes.com/conference-information/the-connection-between-the-heart-the-brain#.Wl9qaDdOmM8. Accessed January 16, 2018.