Stroke vs. Heart Attack

Both strokes and heart attacks are caused by interruptions in the flow of blood to vital organs: the brain for strokes, and the heart for heart attacks. However, their symptoms, causes, and immediate treatments can differ significantly.

What is the difference between stroke and heart attack in terms of symptoms?

  1. Stroke Symptoms:
    • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
    • Trouble speaking or understanding speech.
    • Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes.
    • Severe headache with no known cause.
    • Trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance.
  2. Heart Attack Symptoms:
    • Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away after a few minutes.
    • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, or stomach.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
    • Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulders.

While there might be some overlap (like dizziness and nausea), the primary symptoms of each are generally distinct.

What causes these conditions?

  1. Stroke Causes: Strokes happen when a blood vessel in the brain is either blocked (ischemic stroke) or ruptures (hemorrhagic stroke). High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and certain heart diseases are major risk factors.
  2. Heart Attack Causes: Heart attacks occur when blood flow to a part of the heart muscle becomes blocked, usually by a blood clot. This can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle. Factors like smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes increase the risk.

By understanding what is the difference between stroke and heart attack in terms of their root causes, one can better address the risk factors involved.

How to Act?

Regardless of whether you suspect a stroke or heart attack, call emergency services immediately. Both conditions are time-sensitive, and the sooner medical intervention is sought, the better the outcome can be.

Image alt text: what’s the difference between stroke and heart attack?

Author credit: By BiswarupGanguly, CC BY 3.0,

For suspected heart attacks,quick CPR and taking aspirin can sometimes be recommended, but always consult with a medical professional. For strokes, swift medical treatment is crucial, especially within the first few hours.

5 Steps to Manage Cardiac Arrest and Stroke

  1. Recognize the Signs:Cardiac Arrest: The individual will suddenly become unresponsive and may not be breathing or breathing abnormally. There won’t be any pulse. They might collapse and might have episodes of jerky movements. Stroke: Look for signs like sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side; confusion; trouble speaking or understanding speech; difficulty seeing; loss of balance; and severe headache without known cause. The FAST (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911) mnemonic is a quick way to remember and recognize stroke symptoms.
  2. Call for Help: In both scenarios, call emergency services immediately. Every second counts. Inform the operator that you suspect a cardiac arrest or stroke. They may provide you with guidance on what to do next while waiting for emergency personnel.
  3. Start CPR for Cardiac Arrest: If the person is unresponsive and not breathing, begin CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation). Push hard and fast in the center of the chest, aiming for at least 100 compressions per minute. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, use it as directed.
  4. Keep the Stroke Patient Safe: If someone is showing signs of a stroke, ensure they are in a safe position, preferably lying on one side with their head slightly elevated. Do not give them food, drink, or medication. Monitor their breathing and ensure they remain as calm as possible until professional medical assistance arrives.
  5. Stay Calm and Provide Reassurance: Both cardiac arrest and stroke can be terrifying not just for the victim, but also for the bystanders. While you await medical professionals, keep the individual as calm as possible. If they’re conscious, reassure them that help is on the way. If you’re helping with CPR during cardiac arrest, ensure someone is alternating with you if possible, as it can be physically exhausting.

Always remember, these steps are meant for immediate, on-the-spot assistance. Professional medical intervention is crucial for both cardiac arrest and stroke.

Commonly Asked Questions

  1. Can stress cause a heart attack or stroke?
    While stress itself doesn’t directly cause a heart attack or stroke, chronic stress can increase the risk by elevating blood pressure and triggering unhealthy habits.
  2. Can you have a stroke and heart attack at the same time?
    It’s rare, but yes. If someone has significant cardiovascular issues, it’s possible, though not common, to experience both simultaneously.
  3. Is it a good idea to take aspirin if I think I’m having a heart attack?
    It can help, but it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional before administering any medication.
  4. How do I reduce my risk of both conditions?
    Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, avoiding smoking, and managing stress, can considerably reduce the risk.
  5. How long after experiencing symptoms should I seek medical attention?
    Immediately. Both conditions are time-sensitive, and delays can lead to significant complications.


Distinguishing what is the difference between stroke and heart attack can be life-saving. Both conditions, although having distinct symptoms and causes, require immediate medical attention.

Knowing the warning signs and acting quickly can significantly improve outcomes. Always prioritize your health, keep regular medical check-ups, and live a lifestyle that minimizes the risk factors associated with both conditions.