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The Difference Between Heart Attack and Stroke

Last updated 4 years ago

Heart attacks and strokes share many of the same risk factors and symptoms, however the impacts of each are dramatically different. Distinguishing between them is crucial so the right care is delivered. At St. Petersburg General Hospital, our Stroke and Chest Pain Centers are equipped to provide the necessary urgent treatment for both of these medical emergencies. Here is what you need to know about the differences between two health crises.

What They Are

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is cut off or significantly diminished. Without adequate blood, the heart will be starved of oxygen and tissue will die. A stroke is sometimes called a “brain attack” because it is caused by the same mechanism that causes heart attacks—lack of blood flow. Blood flow to the brain is cut off, and the lack of oxygen causes brain cells to die. In both cases, blood flow is most commonly disrupted by narrowed arteries or a blood clot, though for strokes, a burst blood vessel in the brain can also be the cause.


Heart attacks typically cause chest pain, sweating, and shortness of breath. Stroke symptoms include facial drooping on one side, vision and speech problems, and paralysis or numbness on one side of the body. Both heart attacks and strokes can cause nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

Risk Factors

Strokes and heart attacks share many of the same risk factors. Smoking, being overweight, and not getting enough physical activity are all associated with heart attacks and strokes, as are high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and aging. For strokes, using birth control pills or having sickle cell anemia can also increases the risk.

When it comes to treating strokes and heart attacks, timing is everything. At the first sign of symptoms, go to the emergency room at St. Petersburg General Hospital. You’ll get the fast diagnosis and care you need in our Stroke Center and Chest Pain Center, as well as aftercare for a smooth recovery. For information about all of the services at our St. Petersburg hospital, please call (888) 741-5122.



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