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Home > Resources > PAF Publications > PAF Guides & Major Publications > American Indian - Alaska Native > Heart Disease

Heart disease includes coronary artery disease, heart attacks, stroke, and high blood pressure. These conditions are quite prevalent among the Alaska Native population and are major causes of early death.

High Blood Pressure is a silent killer and occurs when the pressure of blood against the walls of the blood vessels increases. Poorly controlled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. High blood pressure can be treated effectively with medicines, and teh basic health habits listed in this publication.

Strokes result when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. Then part of the brain starts to die because it cannot get blood and oxygen it needs. When a portion of the brain dies, the area of the body it controls is affected. Strokes can cause a complete or partial loss of movement or sensation, effect speech or vision. Side effects of a stroke may be permanent or temporary and will be different with each patient. Recovery is dependent on the severity of the stroke, location of the blood clot, and how soon treatment is received.

Signs and Symptoms:
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Heart Attack
Heart Attacks occur when the blood supply to a section of the heart muscle is severely reduced or stopped. This happens when one or more of the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle is blocked. If the blood and oxygen supply is cut off for more than a few minutes, heart muscle cells suffer permanent injury and die. This can kill or disable someone, depending on how much heart muscle is damaged.

If you experience any of these symptoms or have risk factors for heart disease, do not ignore them.

Signs and Symptoms:
  • Discomfort or mild pain in the center of the chest. The pain can come and go and is often described as pressure, squeezing, or indigestion.
  • Pain can spread to one or both arms, neck, jaw, back or stomch
  • Shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness or nausea

Risk Factors:
  • Family history
  • Tobacco use
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Drug and/or alcohol use
  • Diabetes
  • Stress

New treatments are available for heart attack and stroke victims. It is important that you do not delay seeking medical care when symptoms appear, since treatment must be given as soon as possible to be effective.