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What Is Post-Heart Attack Brain Damage? Learn Causes and Prevention.

It is important to get immediate treatment, as prompt action can help in preventing complications involving the brain functions like focus, memory, and decision making. There is a common saying which goes “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain(1), meaning the habits that are good for heart health, such as consuming a healthy diet, exercising on a regular basis, avoiding smoking and alcohol etc., are also beneficial for the health of the brain. The opposite of this statement also stands true, that is, what is harmful for the heart is equally harmful for the brain.

A heart attack is a condition where there is damage to the heart tissue and it impacts a healthy heart function and can also cause damage to the brain and disrupt the patient’s long-term cognitive function. Some of the signs of a cognitive decline are: inability to concentrate, memory changes and difficulty in making decisions. If prompt response is taken after heart attack occurs and necessary action is taken towards restoring heart function, then the chances are good that any damage to the brain and thinking capabilities can be prevented or at least reduced.

How can Brain Damage Occur as a Result of Heart Attack?

Brain damage can be caused by a heart attack as after the attack, the ability of the heart to deliver oxygenated blood to organs (including the brain), tissue and muscles all through the body gets affected. With the lack of sufficient oxygen and other nutrients, the cells within the brain start to perish and the function of these brain cells, like speaking or thinking, gets affected. A study from 2023 shows that short-term cognitive decline need not be a complication of a heart attack; however, long-term deficits are detrimental for functional areas like, decision making, memory, language and attention (2). However, there is more research needed to completely understand the exact process of a heart attack leading to long-term cognitive decline.

It has been theorized that heart attack can be related with brain damage due to certain risk factors for heart attack, such as high cholesterol, hypertension and inflammation; and all these factors can negatively affect the health of the brain. A study from 2021 indicates a heart attack can cause increased inflammation in the brain and this affects the health and function of the brain (3). A heart attack also increases the risk of depression and this can lead to brain damage. The stress of having heart attack along with the thought of decreased health or the thought that one is not immortal can be a great contributing factor for development of depression after having a heart attack. A study from 2021 shows that about 20 to 30% of people who have suffered from heart attacks are diagnosed with depression or anxiety (4). Other than this, an older study from 2019 suggests that depression can cause substantial loss of volume of the grey matter in the brain with time (5). The cells of grey matter are responsible for emotion, memory, movement etc.

What are the Symptoms of Post-Heart Attack Brain Damage?

In the beginning there are subtle changes in brain function following a heart attack. One more thing to remember is that changes in thinking skills and memory are normal as a person ages and need not be signs of dementia or brain damage. Symptoms of brain damage after a heart attack and which need medical evaluation are:

  • Trouble making decisions along with poor judgment.
  • Confusion regarding place and time, not knowing the day or not recognizing familiar surroundings.
  • Loss of memory, which disrupts daily functioning, such as forgetting to eat; forgetting an important engagement.
  • Increased trouble with balance and coordination.
  • Difficulty with basic tasks, such as cooking favorite food or handling daily expenses.

More information can be found on the CDC’s website(6).

Is it Possible to Recover from Post-Heart Attack Brain Damage?

There are some aspects of brain damage that occur after a heart attack and which can be reversed with the help of healthy lifestyle. For example, managing stress helps in reducing the brain inflammation and helps with recovery after having a heart attack. A study from 2018 shows meditation, yoga and breathing techniques helps in reducing neuro-inflammation along with improving cognitive function and preventing anxiety and depression (7). Other habits which are beneficial for both heart and brain health and which help in recovering from brain damage following a heart attack consist of:

  • Consuming a heart-healthy diet, which include vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains. Cutting down on saturated fats, processed foods, sodium and added sugars.
  • Regular exercise, staying physically active is important for healthy heart and overall health.
  • Maintaining the levels of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol in normal range.
  • Getting good quality sleep for at least 7 to 9 hours in a night.


Mild brain damage after a heart attack is to be expected. Receiving immediate treatment helps not only in restoring a healthy heart function, but also limits or prevents the damage to the brain. The brain health can also be preserved by reducing inflammation by following healthy lifestyle, such as eating well, exercising and managing stress levels.

Referral Links:

1. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/whats-good-for-the-heart-is-good-for-the-brain

2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/article-abstract/2805553?guestAccessKey=2d387f03-9caa-498d-992c-7de6bfc5465c&utm_source=For_The_Media&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ftm_links&utm_content=tfl&utm_term=053023

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8387198/

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8211422/

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6306287/

6. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/healthybrain/ten-warning-signs.html

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6090491/

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 6, 2024

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