What is the Difference Between a Heart Attack and Stroke?

Although the risks and effects can be similar, heart attacks and stroke are two different medical problems with different symptoms. While both are vascular events, meaning they involve the blood vessels, mainly the arteries, they affect different organs in the body. However, for both heart attack and stoke victims, every minute counts!

Heart attacks occur when a coronary artery is blocked, usually as a result of progressive coronary artery disease (CAD). With CAD, plaque builds up in the arteries preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart. Every minute that the cardiac tissue goes without oxygen results in more damage to the heart muscle – hence the saying “time is muscle.” The key is to get the blocked artery opened as fast as possible, to prevent further damage to the heart muscle and improve chances for survival.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States . A stroke is a “brain attack”, and occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot, or bursts. When that happens, brain cells in the part of the brain that cannot get blood begin to die. Stroke treatment is most effective when given within the first few hours after a stroke has occurred, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms and act quickly.

Heart attack and stroke risk factors

Although heart attack and stroke are different, the risk factors are the same for both:

– Smoking
– High blood pressure
– High cholesterol
– Diabetes
– Sedentary lifestyle
– Family history
– Atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm)

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack vs. Stroke

Heart Attack

  • Chest Pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort in arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach
  • Nausea
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy

Stroke

  • Face drooping — Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
  • Arm weakness — Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech difficulty — Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 9-1-1 — If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Do you know how to recognize stroke symptoms and when to “Act F.A.S.T.“? Are you familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack?

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