Health TipsMay 16 2022

Know the Difference Between a Stroke and a Heart Attack

A woman clutches her chest in pain

Being able to tell the difference between a stroke and a heart attack can be confusing. Both are medical emergencies that involve problems with blood supply to the brain or heart. Read below to learn the difference and warning signs between the two:

First, let’s define a stroke vs. a heart attack.

What Is a Stroke?

A Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted—easily remembered as a “brain attack.” When the blood flow is cut off from the brain, oxygen and essential nutrients are no longer feeding the brain which starts to kill valuable brain cells. For someone having a stroke minutes could save their life.

Stroke – Every Minute Counts

For every minute the stroke is left untreated, it can result in the destruction of 1.9 million brain cells; more than 7.5 miles of myelinated fibers, and 14 billion synapses. The estimated loss of brain cells during a stroke can be translated into accelerated aging of the brain: 8.7 hours for every second of delay, 3.1 weeks for every minute, 3.6 years for every hour, and 36 years for a stroke that goes untreated, according to the American Heart Association’s Rapid Access Journal Report.

What Is a Heart Attack?

A Heart Attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is severely reduced or cut off. The blood supply to the heart is normally cut off by plaque in the arteries (Coronary Artery Disease), or a blood clot. If the blood flow is not restored quickly, the lack of oxygen can damage heart muscle, and it will begin to die. This condition is known as Ischemia, a dangerous condition of oxygen deficiency to vital tissues.

Warning Signs of Stroke

  • Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
  • Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence and is it repeated correctly?

Warning Signs of Heart Attack

  • Discomfort for more than a few minutes in the chest that feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Episodes can stop or reoccur.
  • Discomfort or pain can extend to other areas of the upper body, including shoulders, arms, back, stomach, jaw and teeth.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Fainting
  • Women may exhibit different or less visible symptoms than men. Women may feel abdominal pain or what they think is heartburn, clammy skin, and/or unusual fatigue.

If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 immediately. Having a stroke or heart attack is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if you witness someone having a heart attack or stroke. Do not attempt to drive the person or yourself to the hospital.

Talk with your doctor about your risk for heart attack or stroke. If you do not have a doctor and would like help finding one, UT Medical Center’s Healthcare Coordination can help. They will talk to you about what insurance you have, what type of doctor you need and what days are most convenient for you. Call them today at 865-305-6970 to make an appointment.

For more information about the dangers of radon or any other health topic, contact the Health Information Center. The Health Information Center is a library staffed by medical librarians and certified health information specialists. If you let us know your health information needs, we will do research for you and mail or email the results to you for free. You can call us at 865-305-9525. We also have a large collection of health books covering a variety of topics.

Becoming a library member is free and only requires a picture ID.

The Health Information Center in located on the first floor the hospital. We have computers, printers, and a quiet place to take a break.