Difference between heart failure and heart attack

June 18, 2020

Difference between heart failure and heart attack
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When we think of heart disease, we think of heart attack. The term heart failure is also common and often we confuse the two. Heart attack and heart failure are both heart diseases, but they have major differences. Let’s check them out.

Heart attack and heart failure

Heart attacks are often sudden occurrences, while a heart failure happens over time. The reason for both is coronary artery disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries making them narrower.

When apiece of plaque breaks free from the artery wall and blocks the artery, blood supply to that part of the heart is stopped. This causes a heart attack.

When the blood flow becomes insufficient due to narrowing of the arteries, the heart muscle is chronically oxygen deprived. In addition, the heart has to work harder to pump blood out through the narrow arteries. The oxygen deprivation and hard work weaken the heart muscle. Over a period, the weakened heart will fail under this tremendous pressure.

Causes of heart attack and heart failure

The most common cause of a heart attack is a blood clot or plaque blocking an artery. A spasm in a coronary artery can also trigger a heart attack. Very rarely it can also be caused by tears in the walls of a coronary artery.

A heart failure generally develops over time due to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup. Other causes include heart valve disease, congenital heart defects, infections, irregular heartbeat, heart muscle problems, thyroid or lung disease, HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy and alcoholism.

Differences between heart attack and heart failure symptoms

Heart attack Heart failure
Chest pain or pressure, mild or severe, that comes and goes Shortness of breath (especially when lying down)
Pain or pressure in the jaw, arms, shoulder, neck, back and stomach above the belly button Wheezing/ coughing
Breathing trouble Fast/ irregular heartbeat
Nausea/ vomiting Swollen ankles, legs, stomach
Lightheadedness, fatigue, sweating Tiredness


Treatment for heart attack and heart failure 

A heart attack requires immediate treatment to restore blood flow in the affected region of the heart. The sooner circulation is restored, the lesser damage to heart muscles. Medicines to thin blood, angioplasty to remove the obstruction in the artery, placement of stent to keep the artery open or a coronary artery bypass surgery are the methods of treatments available for heart attack. Lifestyle changes including a heart healthy diet and regular exercise are also advised to keep you heart disease free in the long term.

For a heart failure is also treated with some of the medications used to treat heart attack. They help in managing blood pressure and heart rate. Diuretics are prescribed to reduce swelling due to water retention. This also makes breathing easier. To maintain a healthy heart lifestyle changes including a heart healthy diet, regular exercise, limiting salt and quitting tobacco are necessary. In some severe cases, surgical intervention to implant a pacemaker or treat valve problems may be done.

Be aware of your health and vigilant to notice any changes. Consult your doctor at the earliest if you have any of the symptoms of heart disease. When diagnosed and treated early, heart problems can be managed well for a long and healthy life.

Disclaimer: We recommend consulting a Doctor before taking any action based on the above shared information.



Dr. V. Narendra Kumar

Dr. V. Narendra Kumar

MBBS, MD (Paediatrics), DM (Cardiology), FESC

Senior Consultant- Interventional Cardiology, Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology

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