Learn the difference between a stroke and a heart attack and how to prevent them.
Strokes and heart attacks both occur suddenly. But when symptoms abruptly appear, will you know how to tell the difference between a stroke and a heart attack? Taking immediate action can mean the difference between survival or severe damage for a loved one. Learn the symptoms of a heart attack and stroke to help you know what to do until help arrives.
What is a stroke?
A stroke (or “brain attack”) occurs when blood flow is prevented from reaching the brain. This disruption of blood flow is caused by a blockage or ruptured blood vessel in the brain. When this happens, the oxygen-starved brain cells begin to die rapidly, so immediate treatment is crucial to a patient’s recovery.
The symptoms of a stroke are caused by the brain cells dying due to a lack of oxygen. Early stroke symptoms include:
- Unexpected dizziness or loss of balance
- Weakness or numbness in the limbs or face
- A severe headache
- Blurriness in one or both eyes
- Difficulty speaking
If you suspect someone may be having a stroke, call 911. Monitor them closely while you wait for the paramedics. You will also want to make a note of the time the symptoms started. This information may be helpful for medical personnel when they arrive.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery becomes blocked or narrows so much that blood flow is severely restricted or stops. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease, which occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries. The plaque restricts blood flow over time, forcing the heart to work harder. This can lead to damaged or failed heart muscles.
According to the CDC, 790,000 Americans have a heart attack every year. What is even more cause for concern is one out of five heart attacks are considered “silent”— the person wasn’t aware the attack happened.
Heart attack symptoms occur suddenly or may build steadily over a period of time. The most common symptoms include:
- Unexplained pain in the arm or shoulders
- Chest pain or tightness
- Unexplained pain in the back, neck or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness, dizziness, or fainting
Keep in mind a heart attack may also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting or unusual tiredness. These symptoms are often more common in women than men and can be mistaken for other ailments like heartburn, chest pain or even a gallbladder attack.
Preventing strokes and heart attacks
Eighty percent of premature strokes and heart attacks are preventable, according to the World Health Organization. It is important to make healthy lifestyle choices to reduce your risk of heart disease. This includes:
- Managing your cholesterol and blood pressure levels
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Keeping your blood sugar under control
- Maintaining a healthy weight by exercising a few times a week
- Eating a diet that is low in added sugars, saturated fats and sodium
- Quitting smoking or tobacco use
Additionally, the American Heart Association recommends that you begin screening for heart and vascular disease by age 20. Screening includes measuring your body mass index, blood pressure, waist circumference and pulse at your annual health care visit, or at least every two years. If you are at normal risk, you should get a cholesterol profile every five years.
If you have questions about the difference between a stroke and a heart attack, find a nearby Valleywise Community Health Center or call 1 (833) VLLYWSE to schedule an appointment.