What's the difference between a stroke and a heart attack

May 20, 2021

Both stroke and heart attack symptoms happen suddenly and without warning.

(Paducah, Ky.)  May 20, 2021 — May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so there is no better time to learn the difference between a stroke and a heart attack.

Both stroke and heart attack symptoms happen suddenly and without warning. While both have symptoms in common, other symptoms are different.

What are the signs of a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. The damage to the heart muscle is usually caused by a blocked artery, which prevents oxygen from getting to the muscle tissue of the heart. A heart attack is the most common cause of death in the U.S. The classic warning symptoms and signs of a heart attack in men and women may include:

  • Chest pain. Most heart attacks involve pain or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like squeezing, uncomfortable pressure, fullness or pain.
  • Shortness of breath. This can happen with or without chest discomfort.
  • Sweating. Breaking out into a cold sweat for no apparent reason also can be a sign of a heart attack.
  • Nausea. Feeling nauseous or lightheaded, especially when combined with any of the symptoms described above, can be a sign of a heart attack.

What are the signs of a stroke?

A stroke happens when your brain tissue is deprived of oxygen, leading to damage or death of the brain tissue in the area affected by the stroke. The most common cause of a stroke is a clot that blocks a blood vessel in the brain (ischemic stroke). Strokes can result in permanent brain tissue damage and/or death. It is the fifth most common form of death in the U.S.

Knowing how to identify the symptoms of a stroke is vital for emergency treatment. The acronym B.E.F.A.S.T. is a good way to learn stroke symptoms:

  • B – Balance: Does the person have a sudden loss of balance?
  • E – Eyes: Has the person lost vision in one or both eyes?
  • F - Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
  • A - Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S - Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand?
  • T - Time to call 9-1-1: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Additional stroke signs include sudden severe headache with no known cause or sudden confusion or trouble understanding

Baptist Health Paducah celebrated 10 years as a leader in stroke care in 2020. The hospital became the region’s first certified primary stroke center in 2010, and remains the only local facility with 24/7 neurohospitalist and neurosurgery coverage.

On Saturday, June 12, the hospital will host its 10th Spokes for Strokes bike tour to raise stroke awareness, along with funds for life-saving technologies and expanded stroke care services. 

The ride will begin at 7 a.m. with registration at Baptist Health Imaging Center, 2705 Kentucky Ave., followed by the tour at 8 a.m. Register at https://www.active.com/paducah-ky/cycling/spokes-for-strokes-2021?int=. The cost is $25 for an individual, $40 for couples and $50 for a family for four.