Understanding the difference between a stroke and a heart attack

28096823_MStrokes and heart attacks are similar in that they both occur suddenly, and require prompt medical attention. While they also both involve blood blockage to critical body parts, the critical parts being affected are the main distinguishing factors.

In a stroke, blood flow to the brain is blocked. On the other hand, a heart attack occurs when a blockage in blood flow to the heart occurs.

Understanding their subtle differences helps ensure that the right kind of first aid and treatment is administered, as prompt action might be the difference between life and death. That’s why we’ll explore some of these differences.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is impeded. This disruption of blood flow is usually caused by a blocked artery (usually caused by a blood clot) or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain. When any of these occurs, the brain is deprived of oxygen. Consequently, brain cells begin to die.

If left for too long, a stroke can cause lasting brain damage, life-long disability, or even death. According to the CDC, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, claiming about 150,000 lives yearly. That’s why immediate treatment is crucial to give a patient their best chance of full recovery.

Common Symptoms of Stroke

When brain cells are deprived of oxygen, some of the symptoms you might notice include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, leg, or arm, especially on one half of the body
  • Sudden difficulty in speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance and coordination, as well as trouble walking.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

The mnemonic F.A.S.T. can be used to identify and respond to a stroke.

F.A.S.T. stands for:

F – facial dropping

A – Arm weakness

S – speech difficulties

T – Time

What to Do?

If you notice some of the symptoms of stroke, it’s important to act promptly as noted in the last letter of the mnemonic ‘T’. But why is that? Because when a stroke occurs, brain cells start to die. Without prompt medical attention, irreparable brain damage may occur.

That’s why you need to call 911 if you notice someone exhibiting these symptoms. Make sure you take note of the time these symptoms started so you can pass them on to the medical personnel.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is restricted, thereby depriving the heart of the oxygen it needs. This, in turn, damages the heart muscle, which may lead to death if left untreated.

Most cases of heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease. This condition develops when the arteries of the heart cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Over time, the heart muscles over-work to get oxygen, which eventually leads to a damaged or failed heart muscle.

Fat, calcium, proteins, and inflammatory cells can also build up to form plaques in the arteries. When hard plaques rupture, blood clots form around them, sometimes blocking the artery and starving the heart of oxygen.

According to the CDC, heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 660,000 people yearly.

Common Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Surprisingly, strokes and heart attacks have similar symptoms. Here are some of the things to look out for if you suspect a heart attack:

  • Discomfort and pain the chest, arm, or below the breastbone
  • Unexplained pain in the back, jaw, or neck
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Sweating, dizziness, upset stomach, and vomiting
  • Fast or uneven heartbeat

What to Do?

Like a stroke, a heart attack also requires immediate medical attention. If someone has a heart attack, make sure you promptly call 911 or seek medical help. If the patient stops breathing, perform CPR or use a defibrillator if available.

How are Heart Attack and Stroke Diagnosed and Treated?

Doctors first run through your symptoms and medical history.

If you have a stroke, you’ll likely get a CT scan of the brain to show areas of poor blood flow. If the blockage is caused by a clot, the doctor administers a medication called tissue plasminogen activator to break up the clot. If the stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel, surgery is carried out to repair it.

On the other hand, if you have a heart attack, an electrocardiogram is first used to check the health of your heart. Checking for heart attack indicating enzymes can also be used to diagnose a heart attack. Performing cardiac catheterization is also another option.

In some instances, medication and lifestyle changes are all you need to tackle a heart condition. However, other instances require either coronary artery bypass grafting (CAGB) or angioplasty.

Wrap Up

Strokes and heart attacks are both serious medical conditions. Knowing their difference will ensure that the right treatment actions are taken. But most importantly, leading a healthy lifestyle – like exercising, avoiding alcohol and smoking, eating healthy, and more – can help reduce your risk factor for these conditions.

Contact us today for more information.