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What's the Difference Between a Heart Attack and a Stroke?

Timely treatment is crucial and can even save your life.

Presented by Adventist Health January 20, 2023

Heart attacks and strokes have quite a bit in common: they are both medical emergencies caused by a sudden cut-off in blood flow. In a heart attack, the blood flow to your heart is suddenly blocked. A stroke occurs because of a sudden interruption of blood flow in your brain. With both conditions, timely medical care is crucial for lowering the damage to your brain or heart.

Know the signs of stroke: Act F.A.S.T.

“When someone is having a stroke, minutes matter — it’s crucial that they receive care as quickly as possible to reduce the chances of brain damage,” says Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular cardiologist Gail Jones, M.D. Call 911 right away if you notice any symptoms of a stroke in someone else or experience them yourself, including:

  • Numbness or weakness in your face or limbs, especially affecting only one side of the body
  • Confusion, difficulty speaking or trouble understanding others
  • Blurred or impaired vision in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness, difficulty walking, or balance problems
  • An excruciating headache with no known cause

When all else fails, remember to act F.A.S.T!

  • Face: Is one side of the face drooping?
  • Arms: When raising both arms, does one drift downward?
  • Speech: Is speech slurred or garbled?
  • Time: Act quickly; if you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Common heart attack symptoms

Like with stroke, quick heart attack treatment is crucial. Not only does prompt medical care reduce the amount of heart damage, but it may save your life.

Know what symptoms to look for in yourself or a loved one, including:

  • Chest pain, especially on the left side or center of your chest
  • Discomfort that radiates from your chest through your shoulders or arms
  • Jaw, neck, or back pain
  • Feelings of fullness, pressure, or squeezing in your chest
  • Shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Weakness or lightheadedness

Signs of a heart attack in women

While women often also experience chest pain with a heart attack, they are more likely than men to experience subtler and less specific heart attack symptoms, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Back pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Severe fatigue

Because these symptoms vary from what women may read about heart attacks, many women delay seeking treatment. But a heart attack is an emergency — the sooner you receive treatment, the less damage to your heart.

Is chest pain always an emergency?

Chest pain is one of the primary symptoms of a heart attack – but there are many conditions that also cause chest pain. Heart disease, lung conditions, and even anxiety can cause discomfort in your chest. If you have chest pain that comes on sharply and suddenly and doesn’t go away with rest, seek emergency care because it could be a heart attack.

If chest pain worsens during physical activity and lessens during rest, it may be more likely to be angina or chest pain caused by heart disease. You still shouldn’t wait to seek treatment. Speak with a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment options.

If you or a loved one experiences any symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, call 911. Timely treatment is crucial and can even save your life.

Emergency care close to home

It’s important to know where your nearest emergency room is. Adventist Health Portland’s ER is conveniently located near I-205 and I-84. As part of the OHSU Health partnership, our ER is staffed by OHSU providers who specialize in emergency medicine. They are assisted by Adventist Health’s compassionate nurses and support staff who work behind the scenes to ensure you get the best care possible.

Regional heart care centered around you

Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular is a regional network of advanced heart and vascular care with locations in Portland, McMinnville, The Dalles, and the Oregon coast. When you trust your care to Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular you’re placing your heart in the hands of a team of respected physicians and surgeons with a remarkable depth and breadth of expertise in cardiac care. Our highly skilled team is passionate about the health and well-being of our patients and we have built a patient-centered culture focused on clinical quality and personalized care.



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