Warning Signs: How Symptoms Differ Between Heart Attack and Stroke

Cardiac Emergency

During a heart attack, the arteries leading to the heart muscle (called the coronary arteries) become obstructed, preventing oxygenated blood and nutrients from reaching the muscle. A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” occurs when blood cannot reach the brain. Both situations are life threatening, can result in long-term disability, and require urgent care

The symptoms of a heart attack are often experienced differently depending on the individual. Women, for example, are more likely to suffer a heart attack without the chest pain and pressure that most men experience. The most common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort
    Patients can experience chest tightness, squeezing, pressure, pain, or fullness when suffering from a heart attack. 
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body
    Discomfort may be felt in one or both arms, the neck, the back, the jaw, or the stomach.
  • Shortness of breath
    Shortness of breath often occurs with or before chest discomfort.
  • Other signs
    Other signs of a heart attack can include anxiety, cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.

Stroke symptoms can also differ between individuals and often depend on the region of the brain affected by obstruction in blood flow. The National Stroke Association recommends the FAST acronym to help remember the most common symptoms of a stroke:

  • Face: During a stroke, one side of the face and body will often become numb or paralyzed, causing one side of the mouth to droop when smiling.
  • Arms: Unlike the symptoms of a heart attack, patients suffering from a stroke will typically experience numbness, weakness, or paralysis in the limbs instead of pain.
  • Speech: A stroke can make speaking and understanding language difficult.
  • Time: As with a heart attack, time is of the essence when getting diagnosed and treated for a stroke.

Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack and stroke can help you or a loved one to seek help sooner, which can help to prevent long-term health problems that can result from these events. If your family is ever in need of emergency care, Regional Medical Center of San Jose is conveniently located and ready to help, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Our Chest Pain Center is also fully accredited as a center of excellence.  You can learn more about our comprehensive emergency services by calling (408) 259-4000.

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