Heart & The Brain

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THE AFFECT OF CARDIAC ARREST (HEART ATTACK) ON THE BRAIN

The heart is a muscular organ that is responsible for pumping blood through out your body. Blood then carries oxygen and nutrients to your organs so they can function properly. When the heart stops pumping, as in the case of cardiac arrest (heart attack), oxygen is no longer able to travel to nourish the body, particularly the brain. The human brain constitutes only about 2% of the total body mass, yet utilizes more oxygen than any other organ. It requires oxygen and glucose to produce energy and work efficiently. Brain neurons, or nerve cells, depend on a continuous supply of oxygen, as they are not able to store oxygen and glucose for later use. A slight decrease in oxygen delivery can have serious effects including neuronal death and/or changes in brain function and cognition. This can include anything from problems with remembering to judgment, attention, and mental speed.  Changes in personality, behavior, and mood may also occur.

Brain cells are very sensitive to lack of oxygen.  Some brain cells start dying less than five minutes after their oxygen supply is interrupted or ceased. As a consequence, brain hypoxia (oxygen depravation to tissue) or anoxia (complete lack of oxygen), can severely cause brain damage or death.

What are typical causes of hypoxic/anoxic brain damage?
Ø Cardiac arrest (heart attack)
Ø Respiratory arrest
Ø Anesthesia related complications
Ø Hanging
Ø Near drowning
Ø Sleep apnea
Ø Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)
Ø Carbon monoxide and other poisonous gas exposure
Ø Drug abuse/overdose

What symptoms are associated with hypoxic/anoxic brain damage?

v Headache
v Confusion
v Difficulty paying attention (inattentiveness) and concentration
v Memory loss
v Reasoning and judgment
v Mental flexibility
v Word finding difficulty- “I know the word, but can’t get it out of my mind”
v Slowed mental speed and uncoordinated movement
v Changes in behavior or personality (depression, anxiety, irritability)
v Emotional lability (uncontrolled emotional expression)

Is there any treatment for hypoxic/anoxic brain damage?

Depending on the cause, extent and severity of brain damage that occurs subsequent to loss of oxygen, there are many treatment options available.  Before seeking any treatment, it is important to undergo a comprehensive Neuropsychological examination or testing of your cognitive and emotional functioning to determine which parts of your brain are damaged and which are still intact.  Hypoxia/anoxia affects different parts of your brain and produces problems in different patients.  Which areas of your brain are damaged and which are still functioning? A profile of your cognitive and emotional strengths and weaknesses will assist the Neuropsychologist in planning a treatment plan to help you and your family improve quality of life. Rehabilitation, psychotherapy, medication, hyperbaric oxygen treatments are some of the treatment options.  The rehabilitation team (i.e., speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and Neuropsychologist) can manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

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