Knowing the Difference Between These 3 Heart Diseases Can Save a Life

For more than 15 years, heart diseases have remained the leading cause of death around the world. Heart attacks, cardiac arrests, and strokes kill more people every year than diabetes and all cancers combined. About a half of these deaths occur outside of the hospital, which means that people either don't recognize the warning signs or they don't act on them in time. That's why it is crucial to know the symptoms of these heart diseases.

We at Bright Side have researched these symptoms and want to share them with you.

Heart attack

A heart attack (acute myocardial infarction) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. When oxygen-rich blood can't get to the heart because of blockages in coronary arteries, the heart muscle gets damaged and begins to die if blood flow isn't restored quickly. A blockage usually develops due to a buildup of plaque, made up of fat, cholesterol, and calcium.

There are 3 types of myocardial infarction:

STEMI (ST-segment myocardial infarction) occurs when a coronary artery is completely blocked and a large portion of the heart stops receiving blood. This is the most dangerous and deadliest type of heart attacks.

NSTEMI (non-ST-segment myocardial infarction) occurs when a coronary artery is only partially blocked and blood flow to the heart is restricted but not cut off. Though milder than STEMI and less damaging to the heart, this heart attack is still a serious condition.

Silent heart attack, unlike the two attacks mentioned above, presents itself with minimal symptoms or none at all. It occurs when oxygen supply to the heart is reduced due to a buildup of plaque, coronary artery spasm (a sudden tightening of the muscles of a coronary artery) or demand ischemia (increased oxygen demand or decreased supply of oxygen in the body). Having a silent heart attack puts a person at a greater risk of having a major and potentially fatal heart attack in the future.

Symptoms of STEMI and NSTEMI heart attacks include:

  • pressure or tightness in the chest
  • chest, back, shoulder, arm, or jaw pain that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back
  • shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sweating
  • anxiety

It's worth noting that not all heart attacks have the same symptoms, and the symptoms can even vary between men and women. Some women report that their heart attack symptoms felt like the flu or acid reflux.

Silent heart attack symptoms, if present, may include nausea and muscle pain, and can be mistaken for the flu or indigestion.

If you suspect that you (or someone else) might be having a heart attack, call the ambulance immediately. Make sure you're resting to avoid further strain on the heart. If you're not allergic to it, chew and swallow an adult-sized aspirin (300 mg) while waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Blood-thinning aspirin helps partially restore blood flow to the heart.

Cardiac arrest

While a cardiac arrest can sometimes either precede or follow a heart attack, the two conditions are not the same and should not be used interchangeably. Sudden cardiac arrest is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart stops pumping blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs. As a result, a person stops breathing and loses consciousness. If help isn't administered within minutes, the victim dies.

Since a cardiac arrest is a sudden condition, there are usually no symptoms preceding it, which makes it impossible to recognize the condition in oneself. However, knowing the signs of a cardiac arrest in other people could help you save someone's life.

Sudden cardiaс arrest symptoms include:

  • sudden collapse
  • no pulse
  • no breathing or abnormal breathing
  • loss of consciousness

If you witness a cardiac arrest in someone else, you can greatly increase their chances of survival by calling the ambulance immediately and performing CPR until medical help arrives.

If you haven't been trained in CPR, provide hands-only CPR by pushing hard and fast on the person's chest (100-120 compressions per minute). If you have received CPR training, open the victim's airway and give 2 rescue breaths after every 30 compressions.

Even if you're unsure of your abilities, remember that it's better to do something than nothing at all. This could save someone's life.


Many people think a stroke is also a heart disease, but that's not exactly true. If a myocardial infarction is called a "heart attack," then a stroke can be called a "brain attack." A stroke (cerebrovascular accident) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when an artery through which blood flows to the brain is blocked or bursts. When brain cells are deprived of oxygen, they begin to die and the abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost.

There are 3 types of cerebrovascular accidents:

Ischemic stroke occurs when an artery carrying blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or plaque, causing severely reduced blood flow to the brain (ischemia). This is the most common type of stroke, accounting for more than 85% of all cases.

Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a brain aneurysm or a blood vessel in your brain leaks or bursts, causes blood to spill into or around the brain (hemorrhage). Despite being much less common than ischemic stroke, this type of stroke is responsible for about 40% of all stroke deaths.

TIA (transient ischemic attack), also known as a mini-stroke, occurs when blood flow to the brain is temporarily interrupted by a blood clot or an air bubble. The condition lasts only a few minutes or a couple of hours and fully resolves within 24 hours. A TIA should be interpreted as a warning sign that you may have a stroke in the near future.

Since a stroke can affect different parts of the brain and the brain controls different parts of the body, symptoms of a stroke can vary from person to person. However, there are some universal symptoms that identify most strokes:

  • facial drooping
  • arm weakness
  • slurred speech

A good mnemonic device to help you memorize and recognize the main symptoms of a stroke is the word FAST, which stands for Face, Arms, Speech, Time.

Face – does your face appear droopy on one side? Can you smile with both corners of your mouth?

Arms – can you lift both arms and keep them up?

Speech – is your speech slurred? Can you speak at all?

Time – time to call the ambulance!

Remember it and call the ambulance immediately if you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone else.

While we hope that none of these diseases ever happen to you, it is very important to always remember these tips. All three of these diseases are life-threatening and recognizing them and calling the ambulance in time can save a life.

Preview photo credit shutterstock
Illustrated by Marat Nugumanov for Bright Side
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