Nov 8, 2022 Heart Attack vs. Stroke

doctor and patient smiling

How heart attacks compare with strokes—and what you can do about them

Heart attacks and strokes can seem similar:

  • Both involve reduced blood flow and can share underlying causes.
  • Lifestyle measures can help prevent them.
  • Having poor heart health can boost risks of stroke and vice versa.

But in other ways, heart attack and stroke are very different. Here’s how they stack up.

Heart Attack

What Is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack is a medical emergency usually caused when a blockage such as a blood clot reduces flow in one or more of the coronary arteries—blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood.

What Are Key Warning Signs?

  • Cold sweat
  • Chest pain or pressure (Men may notice chest discomfort more than women do.)
  • Pain in the jaw, neck or back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both shoulders
  • Nausea or indigestion
  • Weakness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Shortness of breath

I Think I'm Having a Heart Attack. Now What?

Call 911 immediately. Getting to an emergency room right away helps ensure you receive treatment as soon as possible, which can prevent a heart attack from getting worse, reduce damage to the heart muscle or even save your life. For example, doctors at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton can perform minimally invasive angioplasty, which quickly opens clogged coronary arteries and restores blood flow to the heart.

What Happens After a Heart Attack?

Cardiac rehabilitation is an important way that people who have had a heart attack not only can recover but also can restore heart health and learn to reduce risks of having another heart attack.


What Is a Stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency—sometimes called a brain attack—in which a blockage such as a blood clot reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain (ischemic stroke) or an artery in the brain leaks or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). Strokes cause brain cells to die from lack of oxygen within minutes.

What Are Key Warning Signs?

  • Sudden eyesight impairments such as double vision or vision loss
  • Droopy face or uneven smile
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Balance problems such as dizziness, unsteadiness or poor coordination
  • Sudden confusion or difficulty understanding others
  • Severe, sudden headache without a known cause
  • Weakness or numbness, especially on one side of the body

I Think I'm Having a Stroke. Now What?

Call 911 immediately. Every minute counts, and it’s important to receive medical care as soon as possible— preferably at a Primary Stroke Center such as RWJUH Hamilton—to prevent lasting complications such as brain damage or disability, or even stave off death.

What Happens After a Stroke?

Neurorehabilitation guided by experts at RWJUH Hamilton’s Center for Neurosciences can help people who have had either ischemic or hemorrhagic strokes relearn skills that may have been lost after a brain-damaging incident or learn new skills to improve quality of life.

How Can I Prevent Heart Attacks and Strokes?

What’s good for your heart is generally good for your brain. Key steps like these can reduce your risks of both heart attack and stroke.

  • Control blood pressure. High blood pressure damages blood vessels and can increase the risk of a blockage.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and seafood. Avoid added sugar, saturated fats and sodium.
  • Limit alcohol. Drinking too much can raise blood pressure.
  • Manage diabetes. High blood sugar can damage nerves and blood vessels.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking damages blood vessels and increases your risk of blood clots.
  • Keep active. Getting your heart pumping for at least 150 minutes a week can lower blood pressure and other risks.

Learn more about the Center for Neurosciences at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton.