Heart Attack and Stroke Differences

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Stroke, Heart Attack
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Dr. Sinatra is often asked what the difference is between a heart attack and stroke and even TIA. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is, as its very Latin name implies, a temporary (transient) episode of lack of oxygen (ischemia). We use the word attack because the person is often “attacked” abruptly with symptoms.
 
The symptoms of both a TIA and stroke can be as subtle as slurred speech, or as dramatic as loss of consciousness. Symptoms also include:

  • numbness of the face or extremities;
  • facial drooping, especially the mouth; 
  • gait imbalances, staggering, falling;
  • problems with numbness or moving one side of the body (hemi- paresis or hemiparalysis);  and/or
  • altered cognition or level of consciousness.

In the case of a heart attack, the heart muscle itself is damaged. In this case, symptoms can include, for men:

  • Mild to intense mid-chest pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dull pain between the shoulder blades
  • Achiness in the jaw
  • Pain in left arm or elbow
  • Profuse sweating
  • Indigestion (often overlooked)
  • Nausea

For women, heart attack symptoms include:

  • Dull, aching chest discomfort (vague)
  • Acute breathlessness
  • Sudden, profound fatigue
  • Jaw or neck pain
  • Pain in left arm or elbow
  • Abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness, even blackouts
  • Vague flu-like symptoms

 While symptoms vary between a heart attack and stroke, there are both similarities and differences when it comes to cause. 
 
Both heart attack and stroke can occur when a clot becomes lodged in a blood vessel, causing poor blood circulation to tissue in the brain or heart. But a stroke can also be the result of a hemorrhage into the brain, which floods the tissue and impedes the flow of oxygen to tissue.

So, while dissolving the blood clot is of primary importance for cardiologists like Dr. Sinatra in treating a heart attack, the doctor treating a stroke has to consider that giving a clot-busting drug could make a stroke risk worse if it’s being caused by a bleed in the brain.

Therefore, getting to a facility that can diagnose the cause of your stroke is essential. So is TIME…so act quickly to get medical attention.

For more information on heart attack and stroke, visit www.drsinatra.com.

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