Difference between Stroke and Heart Attack


Stroke or Heart attack are often considered to be one and the same thing.People use the word interchangeably. But there is a huge difference between the two.

First, lets talk about why do people get confused between the two. The symptoms and the effects of the two can be similar, both are vascular events (involving blood vessels), and both can lead to disability and death.

Now the difference. A heart attack  occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. Without oxygenated blood, the heart muscle begins to die. Stroke is a brain attack, cutting off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Stroke happens when a blood vessel feeding the brain gets clogged or bursts.

Symptoms of Heart Attack

Heart Attack does not always looks like a typical hindi movie where the heroice’s father falls down on the ground, clenching his chest after hearing that she wants to marry to hero and not the villian. Watch out for these heart attack symptoms:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they may come and go.
  • Discomfort in other areas, such as the neck, arms, jaw, back, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, or breaking out in a cold sweat.

Women’s symptoms of a heart attack might differ from men’s. Instead, they’re more likely than men to have these symptoms:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Nausea or indigestion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Abdominal discomfort that may feel like indigestion
  • Discomfort described as pressure/ tightness or an ache in the neck, shoulder, or upper back

Some of these symptoms can be days or even weeks before the actual heart attack. So please see a doctor immediately when you feel any of these symptoms.

While heart disease and stroke are different, they are caused due to blocked blood vessels and have similar risk factors. We list them out.

 Twelve major Risk factors for Heart Disease and Stroke

1. Family history: If you have a relative who is suffering from a heart disease, you’re likely to suffer from the condition. The risk is higher if any of your immediate relatives have had a heart attack before the age of 55 years.

2. Age: Age is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). It accounts for approximately 40% of deaths due to heart failure and stroke in people aged 60 years and above. The lifetime risk factor is high for both men at women at the age of 40 years. But, women should worry about age as a risk factor at 55, provided all other risk factors are controlled.

3. Gender: CVD is a leading cause of death in both men and women but there are significant differences in the incidence and mortality of CVD in both the genders. In the oldest age group, men are more likely to suffer heart disease than women. Women, on an average, suffer from heart disease approximately 9 years later than men but the progression is faster in them as compared to men.

4. Ethnicity: Genetic differences and environmental factors influencing them play a major role in creating differences between the lifetime risk factor for heart disease in different ethnic groups. We Indians are at a high risk for heart disease compared to other ethnic groups but the risk is higher in Americans Indians as compared to Indians.

While the above risks are not in an individual’s control, following risks can be reduced

5. Diabetes: People with diabetes have three times higher risk of suffering coronary heart disease or stroke and a four times greater risk of dying due to heart disease. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that results in insulin resistance. And insulin resistance is linked to a lot of other factors like obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension which individually contribute to increasing the risk of heart disease.

6. High BP: Hypertension means increased blood pressure on the walls of the arteries. If not controlled properly, this increased pressure can cause thickening of the blood vessels. Thickened blood vessels along with high cholesterol levels can lead to hypertensive heart disease like coronary artery disease, heart failure and thickening of heart muscle.

7. Smoking: If you smoke you’re twice likely to suffer from heart disease than people who don’t smoke. Smoking affects the levels of cholesterol and causes narrowing down of the blood vessels, therefore contributing to plaque deposition. It damages walls of the arteries, raises blood pressure and reduces good cholesterol (HDL) levels. It also causes blood clots by aggregating platelets at the site of damage. The risk further varies with the duration and frequency of smoking.

8. High cholesterol: When the blood level of bad cholesterol (LDL) is high,cholesterol gets deposited on the walls of the arteries. This blocks the arteries and restricts the blood flow resulting in heart disease.

9. High triglyceride level: While considering the lifetime risk of heart disease most heart disease guidelines do not take into account high levels of triglycerides. But in India, high level of triglycerides is a big concern. According to Dr K Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the World Heart Federation, a ratio of triglycerides to good cholesterol (HDL) should be considered to determine the overall risk of heart disease for an individual.

10. Obesity: If you’re overweight, you are 6 times more likely to suffer from heart disease. Obesity is linked to most of the other risk factors of heart disease. It is a path to developing high BP, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes and stress which individually contribute to heart disease.

11. Alcohol intake: Drinking more than the recommended alcohol limit increases blood cholesterol level and blood pressure, contributing to plaque deposition (atherosclerosis) and heart attack.

12. Stress: Chronic stress is a main cause of depression, a psychosocial factor known to contribute to heart disease. Stress results in hormonal imbalance that causes fluctuations in blood pressure. Stress is also responsible for forcing individuals to unhealthy practices like smoking and alcoholism.

It is only with healthy eating habits and active lifestyle that you can manage the biggest risk factors of heart disease mentioned above. So, exercise regularly, eat stay fit, quit smoking and drinking and lead a stress-free life.

Source of Information: WebMD; HealthSite

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