HomeHealth A-ZCardiologyWhat is the difference between Stroke and Heart Attack

What is the difference between Stroke and Heart Attack

Heart attack and stroke are currently the leading causes of premature deaths in the world. Both heart attack and stroke are life-threatening diseases and require immediate medical attention. Although both are related to blood vessels, they affect different organs of the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fifth most common cause of deaths in the US is stroke. It kills nearly 1,40,000 Americans every year. Out of every 20 deaths, 4 deaths are caused by stroke.

According to the CDC, nearly 7,90,00 Americans suffer a heart attack every year. What is more alarming is that every 1 out of these 5 cases of heart attacks is silent. The patient doesn’t know that he or she had a heart attack.

Risk factors that connect Heart Attack and Stroke

The leading risk factors for both heart attack and stroke are the same. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they include high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity, high low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and passive smoking.

The Difference between Stroke and Heart Attack

Although the symptoms of heart attack and stroke may be similar, they are different from each other. A heart attack occurs when the inner wall of one of the main arteries gets blocked because of plaque. The blockage of arteries prevents blood circulation to the heart and the heart muscles get damaged.

On the contrary, a stroke occurs when you have a blood clot in the brain because of a ruptured vessel. A stroke is also referred to as a brain attack because it is caused by brain damage owing to lack of oxygen circulation.

Heart Attack

The heart is one of the most vital and complex organs of the human body. Our modern lifestyles, however, are having catastrophic consequences for the organ. A heart attack happens when blood flow to the coronary artery is either reduced or blocked. This stops the blood flow to the heart. This happens due to the build-up of plaque (fatty substance and cholesterol) in the walls of the coronary arteries that supply your heart muscle with blood flow

Plaque does not develop overnight. It usually builds up over many years. If a piece of plaque comes off or gets detached from a heart artery, it may form a blood clot around it, which, in turn, can obstruct or stop the normal blood flow from reaching your heart muscle. Consequently, part of the heart muscle may not get enough oxygen. And, this part of the heart begins to get damaged and may even die if the blockage is not treated immediately.

When part of your heart muscle is damaged or is beginning to die due to lack of proper blood flow (that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the heart), it may result in a atrial fibrillation.


A stroke also called a ‘brain attack’, happens when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and other essential nutrients to the brain is blocked by a clot or bursts. And, brain cells begin to die when they do not get oxygen. This can lead to a stroke.

Treatment for stroke is most effective when administered within the first few hours after its occurrence. Therefore, it is important to distinguish the symptoms and act fast.

Recognizing Symptoms of Heart Attacks & Stroke

While both heart attack and stroke may have similar symptoms, there are some significant differences. In both cases, medical treatment is needed quickly.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Not all heart attacks are the same. It may not involve chest pain. There may be uneasiness or discomfort or a feeling of pressure on the chest. Some common heart attack symptoms are

  • Discomfort/pain in chest, arm, shoulder, elbow & jaw
  • Sweating,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Dizziness and nausea

Symptoms may vary between individuals. Some may have very mild or no symptoms at all and may suffer a ‘silent heart attack.’

Stroke Symptoms

Symptoms of stroke depend on where or which part of the brain is damaged. Brain damage can negatively impact a number of functions, such as speech, muscle control and memory. Some common stroke symptoms include:

  • Facial droopiness
  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the leg, arm, face… or generally one side of our body
  • Severe unexpected headache together with vomiting, giddiness, or distorted consciousness
  • Confusion or difficulty in speaking or slurred speech
  • Dizziness, sudden loss of balance or difficulty in walking
  • Partial vision loss or trouble seeing in both eyes and one eye

How are heart attacks and strokes diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of a stroke or brain attack, your doctor will get a CT scan of the brain. The CT scan will show the areas of the brain which have blot clots. Your doctor might also get an MRI done.

A heart attack is diagnosed through an electrocardiogram, blood tests to check enzymes that indicate a heart attack and a cardiac catheterization, where a flexible tube is guided through the blood vessel inside the heart to check blockages.

How are heart attack and stroke treated?

Treating Heart Attack

A heart attack patient bought to the hospital would be given clot-busting medications. In some cases, procedures like angioplasty (surgical unblocking or repair of a coronary artery) or stent placement would be required. Selective serious patients may also require an emergency Coronary Artery Bypass (redirecting blood around a section of a partially or fully blocked artery in the heart to improve blood flow).

Treating Stroke

The first step towards treating a stroke is to recognize its type via a CT scan. If the scan indicates that the stroke is ischemic (caused by a blood clot that blocks or caps a blood vessel in the brain), and the patient has been bought to the hospital within 4.5 hours of the onset of symptoms, then thrombolysis (dissolution of a blood clot particularly induced artificially)can be administered.

How can you prevent heart attack and stroke?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 80% of premature strokes and heart attacks can be prevented.  Heart attack and brain attack can be prevented by:

  •         Keeping a check on blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.
  •         Eating a healthy diet.
  •         Going for regular physical activities.
  •         Avoiding the use of tobacco.
  •         Maintaining your overall cardiovascular health.


While both heart attack and stroke can have life-threatening consequences for the body, stroke survivors are more likely to face serious disabilities. However, we can make some lifestyle changes and avail some health screenings like Whole Body Health Check or Healthy Heart Package regularly.


Are the signs and symptoms of heart attack or stroke different in women?

The signs and symptoms of a heart attack are similar in men and women, other than the fact that women suffer more from silent heart attacks. The signs and symptoms of a stroke are not different in women, but they suffer more from strokes than men. Moreover, female stroke survivors have more mobility problems, depression and pain.

Which is worse: heart attack or stroke?

Both heart attack and stroke can cause disability and death. But the difference between heart attack and stroke is that you suffer more after surviving a stroke. Stroke can cause mobility disorders and an inability to speak or use certain parts of the body. If you think about death statistics, there are more deaths from heart attacks annually. 

Verified By Apollo Cardiologist

The content is reviewed and verified by our experienced and highly specialized team of heart specialists who diagnose and treat more than 200 simple-to-complex heart conditions. These specialists dedicate a portion of their clinical time to deliver trustworthy and medically accurate content

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