Heart Attack vs. Heart Failure: Here’s How to Tell the Difference

It is important to protect our hearts and we do not speak figuratively. The heart is the body’s lifeblood — the reason your brain gets oxygen to think, your hands are warm enough to hold, and you can live another day. Still, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and two major diseases that fall under that umbrella—heart attack and congestive heart failure—are no joke.

But if both conditions are a form of heart disease, what makes them so different? Let’s start with the basics: A heart attack occurs when one of the heart’s arteries suddenly becomes blocked. This prevents oxygen-rich blood from flowing and eventually leads to tissue death, says Dr. April Stempien-Otero, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at the UW Medicine Heart Institute, told SELF. Heart failure, on the other hand, develops when the heart doesn’t pump enough blood for the body’s needs, which can result in fluid leaking into the lungs and other areas of the body, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

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Here’s what you should know about heart attack vs. heart failure, including symptoms, causes, treatments, and what you can do to lower your risk to keep your heart beating.

Heart attack symptoms vs heart failure symptoms

The most common heart attack symptoms are quite different from typical heart failure symptoms. When it comes to a heart attack, you probably have an image in your mind of a person clutching their chest before tripping. While chest pain — particularly chest pressure, tightness, pain, or a feeling of bruising that radiates down the left arm or into the jaw — is a common sign of a heart attack, the NHLBI says the possible symptoms can be more subtle. That’s especially true for women, who are more likely to suffer from nausea or indigestion, cold sweats, and deep, unexplained fatigue, says Dr. Stampien-Otero. Shortness of breath and drowsiness or sudden dizziness can also be warning signs.

Now, the most common symptom of heart failure is shortness of breath, especially with activity, says Dr. Stampien-Otero. activity in this sense it is less about your training and more about your daily activity; Getting off the couch, climbing stairs, or doing other basic movements shouldn’t make you gasp or feel exhausted. This can be a sign of heart failure because when the heart stops pumping efficiently, fluid pools around the lungs; In turn, you may feel breathless and experience swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet in later stages.

Other possible symptoms of heart failure include persistent cough; swelling in the abdomen; rapid, unexplained weight gain from fluid retention; nausea; loss of appetite; difficulty concentrating; and a fast or irregular heartbeat, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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What are the causes of a heart attack vs. heart failure?

Several factors have been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and heart failure, Jeffrey Teuteberg, MD, cardiologist and division chief of heart failure, cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at Stanford Medicine, tells SELF. These include metabolic factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and being taller. The use of substances that can damage the heart, such as tobacco, has also been linked to both conditions. Family history and genetic conditions may also play a role.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the biggest risk factors for heart attacks include:

  • Age (45 years or older)
  • lack of physical activity
  • A diet high in sodium or trans fats
  • Tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption
  • High blood sugar or diabetes
  • high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Family history of heart attacks
  • extreme stress
  • autoimmune diseases
  • Preeclampsia (a high blood pressure condition during pregnancy)

When it comes to heart failure, a heart attack can be a significant risk factor. That’s because a heart attack can damage the heart, which can cause it to pump less efficiently, says Dr. Teuteberg. People who have had a heart attack are at “a much higher risk of developing the types of heart failure that result in the heart muscle not being squeezed as well,” he explains.

Other common risk factors that can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure are:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Damaged heart valves
  • damage to the heart muscle
  • inflammation of the heart muscle
  • heart defects you were born with
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • blood clots in the lungs
  • Tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption
  • Severe viral infection or disease
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • sleep apnea
  • diabetes

It is important to note that these risk factors do not affect everyone equally. For example, according to the Cleveland Clinic, black adults have significantly increased rates of high blood pressure, and black women are twice as likely as white women to develop chronic high blood pressure during pregnancy. Also, Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Native Americans are more likely to have diabetes than white Americans. These risk factors can set the stage for higher rates of heart attack, heart failure, or both. The reasons for these differences are complex, but can be traced in part to social determinants of health, including exposure to racial discrimination and violence, financial stability, and access to quality education, compassionate healthcare, supportive living environments, and nutritious diets.1

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How is a heart attack treated versus heart failure?

Of course, all of the symptoms discussed above can be a sign of other health problems. So when should you see a doctor? If you suddenly experience any worrisome symptoms — say, new chest pains, shortness of breath, or a really fast heart rate — it makes sense to take them seriously and go to the emergency room, says Dr. Stampien-Otero.

is a heart attack always a medical emergency. However, heart failure usually takes time to reach its worst stages. However, people with early heart failure symptoms often begin to limit their activity without realizing it, says Dr. Stampien-Otero. So if they seek treatment, they need immediate care.

When a person has a heart attack, the blocked artery needs to be cleaned out. This is often done via angioplasty, a procedure in which a doctor inserts a small, deflated balloon into the blockage with a catheter; It is then inflated to widen the blood vessel and allow blood to flow back to the heart. Sometimes a tube of mesh called a stent is placed to keep the blood vessel open, according to the US National Library of Medicine. The sooner this procedure is done, the less damage will be done to the heart. Blood-thinning medications can also be used, says Dr. Teuteberg: “If you are not near a place that can do this [an angioplasty]sometimes they will give you a very strong blood thinner intravenously in hopes that it will dissolve this blood clot to restore blood flow.” Depending on the clot, this may be your only therapy or it may be used to buy time until you are get to a medical center equipped for angioplasty.

Heart failure is treated primarily with drugs such as ACE inhibitors (to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow), beta-blockers (to lower blood pressure and slow heart rate), and diuretics (to encourage you to urinate and release extra fluid). ) treated ), among others. “They’re very effective,” says Dr. Stempien-Otero, especially when taken in the early stages of heart failure. “I have been caring for patients with heart failure medication for 20 years [and they] make that great.”

Severe cases may also require surgery to improve blood flow through the arteries, repair damaged heart valves, or help with heart failure complications, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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How to keep your heart healthy

Although you can’t control all risk factors for heart attack and heart failure, there are some important things you can do to improve your risk.

Find a form of exercise that you enjoy: “Practice, practice, practice,” emphasizes Dr. Stampien-Otero. Even if you’ve already had a heart attack or been diagnosed with heart failure, it’s still a good thing to get your body moving and give your heart a little exercise. “Even very severe heart failure has been shown to benefit from exercise,” she says. As SELF previously reported, up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week — ideally with at least two days of strength training — can significantly improve your heart health. A brisk walk, swimming, biking, and tennis are all examples of moderate-intensity exercise (and doing SELF cardio at home counts, too).

Try your best to eat nutritious meals: You don’t have to cut out major food groups to eat a diet that supports your cardiovascular health, says Dr. Stampien-Otero. As SELF previously reported, you should aim to add colorful fruits and vegetables and high-fiber grains to your plate; Avoiding excess sodium, added sugar, and alcohol can also help. Here’s how to get started.

Arrange regular check-ups: If you haven’t made your yearly appointments yet, here’s your cue to get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar checked. If you have markers of potential concern, you should work with your doctor to bring high numbers down — which may mean more frequent check-ins or regular home testing. “The more you do to treat them appropriately,” says Dr. Teuteberg, “the less likely it is that you will suffer a heart attack or heart failure.”

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  1. circular researchSocial determinants of cardiovascular disease


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