When it comes to cardiovascular health, one of the worst things that can happen is a heart attack. But recognizing it has gotten difficult over the years as heart attack vs. stroke get repeatedly lumped in with one another despite being vastly different, if equally serious, issues. Really, heart attack and stroke don’t even effect the same parts of the body! But because the two are often sudden with their onset, and life-threatening, we understand the confusion. However, to make sure you’re fully prepared if you start to recognize the symptoms of either, we wanted to make things a little more clear.
A heart attack happens when an issue somewhere in the body reduces or blocks blood flow to a coronary artery, which can stop the flow of blood to the heart. If plaque (fat, cholesterol, etc) build up in the arteries, a blood clot can form. Often the result is that part of the heart muscle stops receiving the required amount of oxygen, which causes muscle death. Scar tissue replaces the healthy tissue, creating the perfect circumstances for a heart attack.
A stroke, on the other hand, occurs in the brain. It happens when low blood supply to the brain stops brain tissue from receiving oxygen and other essential nutrients. It can happen when a blood vessel carrying those critical elements to the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot. As you can see, there is an overlap in what’s happening between a stroke and a heart attack. They both involve a lack of proper oxygen and blood flow, and they both involve the premature death of tissue. However, they impact two very different parts of the body.
Symptom Overlap and Differences
There are some overlap in symptoms between the two including arm discomfort and pain, but the symptom differences are just as important to know, so you can potentially identify which medical issue you’re facing and have a better chance of receiving proper treatment more quickly.
The most common symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain or discomfort, upper body discomfort, shortness of breath, cold sweat, fatigue, nausea, and light-headedness or dizziness. There are additional heart attack symptoms in women that we’ve covered before.
As for strokes, the most common symptoms include confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding speech, sudden numbness on one side of the body, difficult balancing, dizziness, loss of coordination, trouble seeing, and sudden severe headache, vomiting, dizziness, or altered consciousness.
Both strokes and heart attacks require immediate, serious medical attention. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or are afraid that you may be experiencing a heart attack or stroke, call 911 immediately. If you’re looking to explore your cardiac health in order to prevent heart attacks and have a better understanding of what your risk factors are, talk with your primary care provider or schedule an appointment with one of our cardiologists today.
Heart Attack vs. Stroke Symptoms Infographic