Facebook Pixel

Cardiovascular Disease: Stroke or Heart Attack? Know The Difference

Rate This

I have often heard people talk of stroke and heart attacks as though the two were interchangeable terms and one is the other. I have done a quick view of what the two actually mean. Though a stroke and a heart attack are both cardiovascular diseases, they affect different parts of our body.

A stroke or a cerebrovascular accident is the damage of brain tissue caused by interruption of the blood supply to the brain. This is due to a blood vessel bursting or to blocking by a clot. (1)

A heart attack or a myocardial infarction is the damage of a part of the heart muscle, caused by the interruption of the blood supply to a part of the heart muscle. This is due to a blood clot blocking the flow of blood through a coronary artery. (2)

Symptoms are said to vary between the genders, and at times the symptoms of stroke and a heart attack may not be definite or classical, and may be vague at best. Events may even occur asymptomatically.

A stroke victim could experience any or combinations of the symptoms, depending on the location of brain affected and severity of the condition, like: (3)

• Severe headache
• Alteration in the level of alertness
• Changes in hearing or taste
• Disorientation, clumsiness
• Loss of memory
• Difficulty swallowing
• Difficulty performing tasks involving cognitive skills – reading, writing, remembering
• Dizziness and loss of balance
• Lack of control over the bladder or bowels
• Muscle weakness in the face, arm, or leg (usually just on one side)
• Numbness or tingling on one side of the body
• Personality, mood, or emotional changes
• Problems with eyesight, including decreased vision, double vision, or total loss of vision
• Trouble speaking or understanding others who are speaking

The victim of a heart attack could experience any or combinations of the symptoms depending on the severity of the attack, like: (4)

• Discomfort and pain in the center of the chest – squeezing, pressure, fullness, tightness etc
• Shortness of breath
• Pain in the jaw, neck or shoulders
• Pain in the arms
• Nausea
• Light-headedness
• Weakness and fatigue
• Palpitations

The diagnosis for the two are also different:

Strokes are diagnosed by doctors using a combination of tools and techniques. However, the first line of diagnosis involves asking the patient of the symptoms and a quick physical examination. The initial tests that follow are: (5)

• CT scan of the brain
• MRI of the brain
• Swallow test
• Blood test
• Ultrasound of the carotid artery
• Catheter angiography

Heart attacks too are diagnosed using a combination of tools and techniques. However, the first line of diagnosis involves a quick physical examination. The initial tests that follow are: (6)

• Echocardiogram (ECG)
• Cardiac catheterization
• Blood tests
• Chest X-ray

The treatment of stroke and heart attack depends upon what your doctor diagnoses, the type and the cause of your condition, the severity of damage, the risk factors or the possible complications given your medical history etc.

By and large, treatment of stroke could involve: (7)

• Stabilization of vital signs
• Clot-dissolving medication to prevent formation of blood clots that block cranial arteries
• Using techniques and medication to control bleeding if it is continuing
• Using techniques and medication to control swelling
• Medication to prevent future strokes

As with a stroke, the treatment would revolve around the quickest restoration of blood and oxygen supply to the affected heart muscle.

The treatment for heart attack victims could involve: (8)

• Anti-clotting medication to prevent formation of blood clots that block arteries
• Coronary angiography
• Clot-dissolving medications to open blocked arteries
• Supplemental oxygen to increase the supply of oxygen to the heart's muscle
• Medications to prevent abnormal heart rhythms


1. Stroke, Cerebrovascular accident; World Health Organization; October, 2011; http://www.who.int/topics/cerebrovascular_accident/en

2. Heart Attack- definition; Mayo Clinic; October, 2011; http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack/DS00094

3. Stroke; MedicinePlus; October, 2011; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000726.htm

4. Heart Attack Warning Signs; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute site; October, 2011; http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/actintime/haws/haws.htm

5. Stroke Diagnosis; National Health Service, U.K; October, 2011; http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stroke/Pages/Diagnosis.aspx

6. Heart Attack- Diagnosis; Cleveland Clinic; October, 2011; http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/disorders/cad/mi_diagnosis.aspx

7. Stroke Health Center- Treatment Overview; WebMD; October, 2011; http://www.webmd.com/stroke/guide/stroke-treatment-overview

8. Heart Attack Treatment; MedicineNet; October, 2011; http://www.medicinenet.com/heart_attack_treatment/article.htm


Mamta Singh is a published author of the books

Migraines for the Informed Woman – Tips From A Sufferer
ISBN: 978-81-291-1517-1
Publisher: Rupa & Co. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Migraines-Informed-Woman-Tips-Sufferer/dp/8129115174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298990756&sr=1-2

Mentor Your Mind – Tested Mantras For The Busy Woman
ISBN: 978-81-207-5973-2
Publisher: Sterling Publishers; URL: http://www.amazon.com/Mentor-Your-Mind-Tested-Mantras/dp/8120759737/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316063179&sr=8-1

and the upcoming

The Urban Woman’s Integrated Fitness Guide
Publisher: Hay House India

She is also a seasoned business, creative and academic writer. She is a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer & sports nutritionist through IFA, Florida USA. Mamta is an NCFE-certified Holistic Health Therapist SAC Dip U.K. She is the lead writer and holds Expert Author status in many well-received health, fitness and nutrition sites.

She runs her own popular blogs on migraines in women and holistic health. Mamta holds a double Master's Degree in Commerce and Business. She is a registered practitioner with the UN recognised Art of Living Foundation. Please visit www.mamtasingh.com

Reviewed November 16, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



Get Email Updates

Stroke Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!