Difference between Stroke and Heart Attack Symptoms

How well do we respond to medical emergencies? Are we knowledgeable enough to help prevent the sudden onset of a disease? Often people do not pay immediate attention to signs and symptoms of the leading killer diseases in the world such as stroke and heart attack. They should always be reminded that every second counts in saving someone’s life. That person could be your wife/husband, child, friend, neighbor or even a stranger passing by – but the important thing is the knowledge that we could do something.



A stroke is basically a brain attack which is caused by inadequate flow of blood to the brain which results in the death of brain cells. It can be classified under two types: ‘ischemic’, which is due to poor blood flow, and ‘hemorrhagic’ which is due to bleeding. By 2013 there were already 6.4 million stroke-related deaths, making stroke the second most frequent cause of death worldwide. In the United States alone, it is considered as the third leading cause of death.

Heart attack
Heart attack

Heart attack, as its name suggests, is caused by an absence of blood flow to the heart which results to the damage of heart muscles. There are approximately one million people who die of heart attack in the United States each year. Heart attack can be derived from an unhealthy lifestyle which consists of smoking and obesity. It can also be linked to other diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high levels of blood cholesterol.

Comparison Chart

Stroke Heart Attack
Poor blood flow in brain Absence of blood flow in heart
Weakness in body parts such as face, arm, leg Mild to severe pressure and pain in the chest
Trouble in seeing, walking and speaking Lightheadedness and nausea
Clot busting medicines for ischemic strokes and surgery for hemorrhagic strokes Aspirin, CPR or Automated External Defibrillator

Stroke vs. Heart Attack Symptoms

What are the differences between stroke and heart attack? Let us discuss their differences according to cause, symptoms and immediate treatment.

  • A stroke is usually caused by poor blood flow to the brain which causes its arteries to be blocked or ruptured, and eventually, its brain cells to die. On the other hand, a heart attack is due to a blood clot which deprives the heart muscles of oxygen-rich blood and causes it to be damaged.
  • The first signs of a heart attack are shown gradually and are actually seldom instantaneous,  contrary to what is depicted in shows and movies. It starts with a mild pressure that is felt in the chest and can grow to a severe sensation of pain and uncomfortable squeezing. Such pain can also be felt in the left arm, lower jaw, neck, right arm, upper abdomen and back. Meanwhile, stroke is felt with a sudden weakness in the face, arms and leg. It usually occurs on only one side of the body.
  • Because stroke damages brain cells, it also damages bodily functions. The sudden onset of weakness in certain body parts leads to inability or difficulty to see, understand, speak and even walk. Arm drift or the inability to raise arms voluntarily and abnormal speech are the sure signs that tell of the presence of stroke. Heart attack, on the other hand, also involves lightheadedness, nausea and shortness of breath. Women may experience other symptoms such as an unusual feeling of “gloom” or fatigue. It may also come with abdominal discomfort which may be initially suspected to be indigestion.
  • For ischemic strokes, clot busting medicines must be immediately injected into a vein in order to dissolve the blood clot. This should be given within three hours of the start of the symptoms. Failure to do so can lead to a hemorrhage. For hemorrhagic strokes, the ruptured or broken blood vessel may be removed by surgery. When a person suffers a heart attack, they should swallow or chew an aspirin. While doing this, they must remain calm and be made to lie down. If they become unconscious, which means the heart has stopped beating, an AED or automated external defibrillator should be used immediately. This can send electrical shocks that can make the heart go back to its natural rhythm. In doing this, one should strictly follow the instructions inscribed on the AED box. CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation can also be performed on the patient by a trained person. If no one around is trained to do so, it is always better to ask help immediately by contacting 911.


For more details, you can watch this great video: