Difference Between A Stroke Vs A Heart Attack

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The symptoms of both a stroke vs a heart attack are similar, which is why it is important to understand the differences when deciding what measures to take.

Both can happen suddenly and are life-threatening diseases which can cause serious damage to both the heart and brain if not quickly treated.

In this article, our aim is to help educate you about the symptoms, risks, causes, and how you can prevent a stroke or heart attack from occurring.

Here is a brief overview of the topics we will be exploring:

What Is A Stroke?

A stroke occurs when there is not enough blood going to your brain. This causes the cells to die due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients that are delivered to the brain tissue. 

Effects and severity of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that is damaged, as well as how long the time gap is between the time of occurrence and treatment.

Types Of Stroke

The type of stroke that you may have, will depend on the area of the brain that was effected.

5 different types of stroke include:

Ischemic Stroke

This is the most common type of stroke. According to the American Stroke Association, 87% of incidents are Ischemic Strokes.

Ischemic Stroke occurs when a vessel supplying blood to the brain is blocked by fatty deposits along the vessel walls, preventing blood to pass through. This condition is medically referred to as atherosclerosis.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

Occurs in an estimated 13% of all strokes. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the tissue of the brain.

TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack)

Also called a “mini-stroke”. TIA is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. Although this does not cause any permanent damage, it is a major sign of a potential stroke which can be well on its way.

Cryptogenic Stroke

This refers to a stroke that has an unknown cause. The problem of what causes a stroke cannot be identified in most cases.

Neurologists, cardiologists, and electrophysiologists will often help determine the best treatment necessary when preventing a stroke from re-occurring.

 
Brain Stem Stroke

When A stroke is caused in the brain stem, it can often lock the body, and prevent mobility. Patients in this scenario are unable to speak and move from the neck down.

Stroke In Women Vs Men

A stroke can happen to anyone at any age, but women suffer more from the effects of stroke than men do for the following reasons:

  • Risk of a stroke is higher due to pregnancy
  • When women’s bodies adapt to menopause, the risk of stroke increases.
  • It is more difficult to identify a stroke in women vs men
  • The risk of diabetes is greater, therefore increasing the risk of a stroke.
  • Women have larger hormonal changes
  • Women are more emotional by nature. This leads to higher stress which results in higher blood pressure.


Research Suggests that in women, a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack), may actually be a full stroke, rather than a minor one.

What Is A Heart Attack?

A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked in the coronary arteries, therefore not allowing the heart tissues to receive enough oxygen and nutrients.

Blocked arteries can be located anywhere in the body, and is often caused by too much cholesterol, which is a waxy-like substance that builds up along the artery walls.

The blood vessels then block necessary amounts of blood from passing through towards the heart.

Heart attacks can be fatal, and if untreated, can lead to lifelong issues if too much damage is done to the heart.

Types Of Heart Attack

Heart attacks can be separated into two types:

  • STEMI (ST-elevation myocardial infarction)
  • Non-STEMI (Non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction)

STEMI Heart Attack

Occur when there is a complete blockage of blood flow in the coronary artery, which is responsible for supplying the heart with oxygenated blood.

Because of the lack of nutrients and oxygen, the thickness of the heart muscle starts to die over time. It, therefore, becomes weak and unable to pump and distribute enough blood to the rest of the body.

The heart muscle is not like other muscles in our body, so it cannot repair itself the same way.

If the damage is minor, it can be reversed naturally, but if the damage is severe, it can become permanently irreversible. This is why seeking immediate medical care is critical when preventing further heart damage

Non-STEMI Heart Attack

Unlike a STEMI heart attack, a non-STEMI is a partial blockage of the coronary arteries which supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood.

When a Non-STEMI Heart Attack Occurs, only part of the wall thickness is damaged and the blockage is temporary. This being said, treatment is still necessary in order to prevent future risk of a STEMI heart attack from happening.

Heart Attacks In Women Vs Men

The difference between a heart attack and stroke in both men and women are different. Men are at risk of a heart attack earlier than women are, but the risk for women above 50 is greater, due to a period of their life called menopause.

Researchers have concluded that estrogen hormones help protect the heart and since menopause decreases these active hormones, the risk of a heart attack is greater.

Women who experience a heart attack are less likely to survive than men, which is why it is so important to make healthy lifestyle choices early on.

Symptoms Of A Heart Attack and Stroke

Stroke Attack Symptoms

Symptoms while experiencing a stroke attack, will depend on what area of the brain is effected. 

The period of time, that it is left unattended prior to medical help can also influence the symptoms that one may experience.

Signs can include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Numbness of one side of the body
  • Problems with balance, dizziness
  • Sudden confusion

Post Heart Attack Symptoms

Symptoms of a heart attack, depends on overall health, gender and age. 

When experiencing a heart attack, symptoms may include:

  • Sweating
  • Pressure, heaviness, and burning in the chest
  • Upper body discomfort, including the neck, shoulders, arms and back.
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheaded

Risk Factors Involved

The risk factors of both a stroke and a heart attack are the same.

Risk’s can include:


Lifestyle choices such as eating, smoking, drug abuse and not getting proper sleep can affect your blood pressure and weight which can increase the risk of a heart attack later on.

These factors are important to consider, as they can help to avoid risks of heart disease, and other life-threatening complications, such as diabetes or cancer.

Atrial Fibrillation, is when a heart beats abnormally, which causes excess blood to overflow into the heart, forming a clot. If the clot breaks free, it can travel to your brain and cause an ischemic stroke.

What Causes A Stroke Or Heart Attack?

What Causes A Stroke?

An ischemic stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack(TIA) is most often caused when the artery walls are blocked, due to the buildup of cholesterol and lipid deposits along the artery walls.

Plaque deposits and fatty substances cause the arteries to harden, which support these blockages to happen.

These blockages can be created from high cholesterol foods, including:

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Vegetable oil 
  • Processed meat
  • Potato Chips
  • Cookies, Cake
  • Alcohol

In a hemorrhagic stroke, the brain leaks and ruptures. The main causes of this can include:

  • Weak spots in the blood vessel walls
  • High blood pressure
  • Overuse of blood thinners

What Causes A Heart Attack?

Like a stroke, a heart attack is primarily caused by the coronary arteries becoming obstructed, also due to high cholesterol. 

This forms plaque within the artery walls, preventing blood flow to the heart, damaging the heart muscle. This is also defined as Coronary Artery Disease.

Diagnosis A Heart Attack And Stroke

Diagnosing A Stroke

Your doctor will assess and evaluate whether or not you have stroke-like symptoms, as well as any medical history.

CT Scan of your brain can be performed, which will identify any bleeding. An MRI can also be performed to identify if there are any differences in brain patterns.

How To Diagnose A Heart Attack?

Symptoms and medical history will also be evaluated by a doctor, and an electrocardiogram can be used to measure the performance of your heart muscle.

A series of blood tests can be performed,  in order to check for enzymes that point to a heart attack. In severe cases, Cardiac catheterization can be performed, which is used to slowly guide a thin long tube through a blood vessel to check for blockages.

Treatment

Can You Treat A Stroke Naturally?

If the stroke is minor, medication may be temporarily prescribed by your doctor, which will help break up any clots that are present inside the blood vessels.

Natural methods such as specific plant-based diet plans,
reducing stress, regular activity, and healthy lifestyle changes can help restore your heart health, and prevent the risk of another stroke later down the road.

In more extreme cases such as a hemorrhagic stroke, surgery may be needed to repair the damage done to the blood vessel.

Treating A Heart Attack

In more minor scenarios, treatment can involve, changing to a clean diet, regular exercise, avoiding stress and substance abuse.

In situations of a STEMI attack, medical action may be taken which may often include:

After treatment, your doctor may recommend you to attend cardiac rehabilitation sessions, which can last several weeks. This often involves education on diet, medications, and lifestyle changes which help avoid future risk and improvement of the overall health of your heart.

Prevention

Prevention must start with knowing what’s at stake. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, almost 80% of premature stroke and heart diseases can be prevented through changing health behaviors.

The risk of a stroke or heart attack can be prevented by:

  • Implementing a healthy diet regularly
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Managing a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Reducing stress
  • Cutting alcohol and drug abuse 

Lifestyle improvements will greatly reduce the chances of high blood pressure, cancer, and obesity which are all linked to heart disease.

Taking action sooner than later, will reduce the arteries from clogging, and putting you at risk of both a stroke or heart attack.

When To Call Emergency

Stroke

F.A.S.T is an acronym, that is recommended by the American Stroke Association, that helps people identify common symptoms of a stroke.

Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop, or is numb? Asking the person to smile can be a clear indication if it is lopsided or uneven.

Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak? If an arm is numb and cannot be raised higher than the other, this can be a sign.

Speech – Speech is slurred, and it is hard to understand. Try asking the person to say a simple sentence.

Time To Call 911 – If you or another person shows any of these symptoms, it is time to call 911 immediately.

Heart Attack

If you experience any of the below post heart attack symptoms, call 911 immediately. 

  • Feeling like a belt is being tightened around your chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold Sweat with other symptoms
  • Sudden crushing and chest pain
  • Pain that spreads to shoulders, neck, jaw or arms

Even if you are not sure, it is better to be safe than risk further damage.