Is It a Stroke or a Heart Attack? Know the Difference

Heart attacks and strokes, though they occur in different organs, are similar in many ways and share some causes and risk factors. While their symptoms are different, decreasing your risk of one will likely decrease your risk of the other. And this is good news.

Symptoms of heart attack

Factors such as age, gender, severity of the episode, and other health issues can affect an individual’s precise symptoms or warning signs of a heart attack, but there are several signs that are fairly consistent. Interestingly, symptoms often differ between men and women.

Men’s symptoms may include:

  • Chest or upper body pain, discomfort, or pressure

  • Pain radiating down the left arm

  • Shortness of breath

  • Light-headedness, tiredness

  • Nausea

  • A cold sweat

Women’s symptoms may include:

  • Body aches

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sudden weakness

  • Overall feeling of being unwell

  • Jaw pain

  • Nausea, vomiting, or indigestion

  • Sleep problems

This distinction does not mean that a woman will not feel chest pressure or pain down the left arm; nor does it mean a man will not experience jaw pain or general body aches. However, there does seem to be a consistent pattern of distinct symptoms for men and women.

Symptoms of stroke

As with a heart attack, different people having a stroke can experience different symptoms based on factors of age, gender, other health conditions, and the type of stroke that the person is having. Stroke symptoms share a few similarities with heart attacks, but most symptoms are centered around the head and functions that are controlled by the brain. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe headache

  • Nausea, dizziness, vomiting

  • Weakness on one side of the body – most commonly arm weakness or numbness

  • Drooping on one side of the face, generally the same side as the weak or numb arm

  • Difficulty communicating – slurred speech, inarticulate or confused speech, inability to comprehend others

  • Vision problems in one or both eyes – blurred vision, sudden blindness in one eye

Since numbness or weakness in one arm is one of the most common signs of a stroke, Neuralert has designed its stroke detection monitor in the form of a wristband with a state-of-the-art AI program that quickly identifies asymmetric use of the arm. Our AI is advanced enough to successfully filter out other reasons for asymmetry (such as writing, holding a phone, and hand dominance) in order to attain an extremely low false alarm rate.

Causes and risk factors

Both heart attacks and strokes involve blockage of blood flow. In a heart attack, a blood clot stops the flow of blood to the heart. In a stroke, either a blockage or a burst blood vessel stops the flow of blood to parts of the brain.

Risk factors for stroke and heart attack overlap. In both cases, factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity can increase one’s risk of blood clots, which decrease the flow of blood, starve parts of the body of oxygen, and can eventually lead to either stroke or cardiac arrest.

These factors tend to be within our control, to some extent. Lifestyle changes can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and body weight. Quitting smoking not only reduces the risk of cardiac issues or stroke but decreases the risk of many forms of cancer as well as lung diseases.

Some risk factors are not within our control, such as age, gender, family history, or race or ethnicity. For instance, age-specific strokes are more common in men, but since women tend to live longer than men and the risk of stroke increases with age, women actually have more strokes and have worse outcomes than men do.

If you are at high risk for stroke, discuss with your doctor about developing a stroke-risk-reduction plan. And consider adding Neuralert’s stroke detection monitor to your plan, so that at the first possible sign of stroke, your medical team is alerted and you receive the earliest possible care to potentially prevent or lessen any long-term effects of the stroke.