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  • Writer's pictureShruti GOCHHWAL

Difference Between Heart Attack and Heart Failure

Cardiovascular diseases are considered to be one of the major health disorders affecting around 1.8 million people annually in India. Cardiovascular or heart disease is a collection of diseases that affect the heart. Heart diseases include coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmias, heart attack, ischemia, plaque, and heart failure. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, an elevated level of glucose, and lipids as well as the problem of obesity. In today’s modern life, people are exposed to various stressors, adapt unhealthy food habits, inactive and sedentary lifestyle changes which make them prone to various heart disorders.

Heart Attack and Heart Failure: The Difference

Heart attacks and Heart failures. They sound awfully similar terms but there are a few key differences. We’ve all heard the terms and we know that each term is a type of heart disease. But they are two different problems with radically different causes and treatments. The main difference between a heart attack and a heart failure is just that a heart attack is a sudden acute disorder, whereas a heart failure develops gradually over a period of time.

A man holding his chest in pain

Caption: Pain due to heart attack Credits: pixabay

Heart Attack

A Heart attack is a medical emergency condition caused by a loss of blood supply. It results when your heart health becomes severe and when blood flow towards your heart is cut off. Loss of blood supply usually occurs due to the death of a segment of a heart muscle. Heart attacks are acute attacks that occur suddenly. Without immediate treatment, the heart muscle begins to die.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is also known as congestive heart failure occurs due to the inability of the heart to pump or fill blood adequately. This occurs when your heart function becomes weaker which gradually occurs over a period of time.

Unconscious woman

Caption: Unconscious woman due to heart failure Credits: pixabay

How are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack Different from that of a Heart Failure?

Some symptoms are common across both illnesses. This includes, excess sweating, shortness of breath, and nausea. However, each case may present a set of additional symptoms.

The additional signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:

⦁ Pain in the upper body area like chest pain or pain in the arms, back, neck, or jaw. ⦁ A Feeling of tiredness or lack of energy ⦁ Dizziness or nausea ⦁ Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. A heart Failure, on the other hand, doesn’t cause loss of heart functioning but weakens the blood flow to the heart and cause: ⦁ Fatigue, weakness, and tiredness ⦁ Loss of appetite. ⦁ Blood and body fluids tend to flow back into the lungs. ⦁ Swelling or edema in your feet, ankles, legs, abdomen. and veins occur due to fluid buildup.

Of course, some of these symptoms overlap, so it’s not advisable to self-diagnose, which condition you may be suffering from. In fact, it’s never advisable to self-diagnose conditions as serious as those related to the heart.

Is There a Difference Between the Causes of the Two Conditions?

Heart attacks happen when the coronary artery gets blocked. And heart failures are a result of gradual wear and tear of the heart. Both, may be a result of other underlying heart conditions. Heart attacks are can be an unfortunate ‘concequence’ of:

⦁ Coronary artery disease is considered to be the root cause behind heart attack and heart failure. ⦁ Blood clot – Plaque build-up in the walls of the heart muscle due to deposition of fats and other substances makes your arteries grow narrower over time. When a certain piece of this plaque break-offs it results in blood clot causing obstruction in the arteries. This obstruction stops the flow of blood to the heart and causes a heart attack. ⦁ Spasms – Sometimes, a spasm in a coronary artery can trigger a heart attack irrespective of plaques. In comparison, heart failures, which occur over a period of time occur due to the pressure applied on it to push the blood through a narrow, blocked space. And improper blood supply to the heart may slowly cause your heart to fail. Almost any underlying condition can result in a heart failure, including:

⦁ Heart valve disease ⦁ Cardiac arrhythmia ⦁ Cardiomyopathy ⦁ Infections like HIV/AIDS ⦁ Congenital heart disease ⦁ Thyroid disease ⦁ Diseases of lung ⦁ Alcohol abuse


The medication used to cure both diseases could be quite similar, especially, keeping the long-term heart health of a patient in mind. These drugs include blood pressure lowering pills, cholesterol pills, blood thinner, ACE inhibitors, and so on.

The main difference between the treatment of the two is that a heart attack warrants immediate redressal. So measures like aspirin, nitroglycerin and CPR come into play. If the patient makes it to the hospital alive, but in critical condition, the doctor may order for an angioplasty or stent placement procedure to open the blocked artery.

On the other hand, for people at an extreme risk of a heart failure, a defibrillator can be implanted to keep their heart steady or, in the most extreme cases, a heart transplant can also be carried out.

As with any heart condition, the first point of attack is always to make lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, cutting salt, losing weight, and regular exercising.

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