Stroke vs. Heart Attack: Telling Signs | Gleneagles Hospitals

Stroke vs. Heart Attack: Telling Signs



Did you know that heart attacks account for the highest number of deaths in the world?

Webmd stats report that in 2019, heart disease caused 9.6 million deaths among men and 8.9 million among women globally.

Another survey from the WHO reported that in 2019, around 17.9 million deaths happened due to CVD, and among these, 85% were from a heart attack.

Besides being the leading cause of global deaths, cardiovascular diseases are also a major cause of disabilities and the rising cost of healthcare.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is somewhat like a heart attack, but it affects the blood vessels in the brain instead of the heart.

A stroke happens when the main blood vessel that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot.

The three types of strokes are:

  • Ischemic stroke - An ischemic stroke is the most common stroke that happens when the blood vessel that supplies oxygen and nutrients is blocked.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke - It happens when one of the blood vessels in the brain bursts and bleeds. This then deprives part of the brain from receiving enough oxygen and causes damage. A hemorrhagic stroke is classified by the type of blood that causes the damage. The most common type is an aneurysm that occurs when an artery in the brain weakens or bursts.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) - TIA is sometimes called “mini-stroke.” The difference here is that usually, the blood flow to the brain is blocked for not more than 5 minutes. It is important to know that TIA is also a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

What causes a stroke to happen?

A stroke happens when there is a blood clot in the carotid artery. The carotid artery is responsible for supplying oxygen-rich blood to the brain.

When this artery gets clogged up with plaque, the normal blood circulation gets disrupted, and thus a stroke may take place.

A stroke may also happen when there is an increase in the pressure of the arteries due to a rupture or leak.

Warnings and symptoms of a stroke

The severity of a stroke differs depending on the part of the brain that is affected.

The main symptom of a stroke can be remembered easily with this word "FAST":

  • Face - The face may drop to on one side, and the person may not be able to smile properly.
  • Arms - The person may not be able to lift both arms because the arms would have become weak or numb
  • Speech - Their speech may not be clear, or they may be slurring. They may also not be able to understand what is being said to them.
  • Time - It is time to call your nearest hospital and get help immediately if you are experiencing or notice any of these symptoms.

Stroke diagnosis

Some of the tests that can be carried out to diagnose if you had a stroke:

  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • Brain scans
  • Heart and blood vessel test
  • Swallow tests
  • Echocardiography

Treatment for stroke

  • Clot - breaking drugs such as Alteplase
  • Mechanical thrombectomy - This procedure involves placing a catheter into a large blood vessel in the head. Then a device is used to pull the clot out of the vessel
  • Stents - This is a procedure to inflate the narrowed artery and support it with a stent
  • Surgery - Sometimes, surgery is required to remove the clot if other treatments don’t work

What is a heart attack?

Heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, usually occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart are blocked in a condition called atherosclerosis.

When these main arteries are blocked, the heart does not get enough oxygen as required and thus may cause a heart attack.

What causes a heart attack?

One of the main causes of a heart attack is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis happens when the arteries are clogged up with cholesterol and other deposits that cause them to narrow down.

These substances that build up in the coronary arteries are called plaque. Plaque takes time to build up, usually over several years.

When this plaque breaks off, a blood clot may form around it. This may stop the normal flow of blood from reaching the heart muscle.

If this happens, part of the heart does not receive enough oxygen and nutrients that it requires. The heart then gets damaged, and a heart attack takes place.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack

A heart attack happens suddenly, and there are times a person may not even know that they are experiencing a heart attack.

Here are some of the symptoms to look out for if you are experiencing a heart attack:

  • Chest pain or tightness - also called angina
  • Pain that radiates down the left arm
  • Unexplained pain in back, neck, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting
  • Cold sweat

Heart attack diagnosis

Following are the tests that a medical practitioner may carry out to diagnose a heart attack or coronary artery disease:

  • ECG or Electrocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray
  • Exercise stress test
  • Echocardiogram
  • Coronary angiogram
  • Coronary artery calcium scan
  • Cardiac catheterization

Treatment for heart attack

Heart attack can be treated with the prescription of medications, or if the damage caused by the heart is rather severe, the patient may have to go through surgery.

Following are some medications that may be prescribed for a heart attack:

  • Aspirin
  • Beta-blockers
  • Angiotensin-converting inhibitors
  • Statins

Surgical procedures include:

  • Coronary artery bypass
  • Balloon angioplasty
  • Valve repair and replacement
  • Heart transplant
  • Artificial heart operations

Stroke vs. heart attack - Which is more serious?

As mentioned earlier in the article, various studies have shown that heart attack is the leading cause of death around the world. Therefore, heart attacks are generally considered deadlier than stroke.

However, strokes, if not identified at the right time, may cause serious disabilities or can be fatal as well.

The survival rate of stroke and heart attack

Years ago, the survival rate for heart attack was relatively low, but with the advancement of the medical world, we can now see a 90% chance of survival.

The American Stroke Association reported that 10% of stroke survivors may recover completely while another 25% may recover with minor issues.

Preventive measures for stroke


While strokes can neither be predicted nor be prevented entirely, consuming a healthy diet, exercising, and maintaining a good lifestyle may go a long way.

Other changes that reduce your risk of having a stroke include:

  • Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Keeping blood pressure in check
  • Keeping cholesterol levels in check. 

How to reduce the risk of a heart attack?

It is vital for us to take good care of our health to prevent heart attacks or strokes.

Staying healthy or switching to a healthier lifestyle would be the best choice one should make. For example:

  • If you are a smoker, quit now
  • Switch to a healthier diet, reduce fatty and oily food. Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise at least 3 - 5 times a week
  • If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol, be sure to keep it under control with medications if necessary

Make an appointment at Gleneagles Hospital

A dedicated team of compassionate and highly trained specialists at Gleneagles Hospitals help to provide comprehensive diagnosis, treatment plan, and care for all patients.

If you or a loved one is at risk of heart attack or stroke, get in touch with us for an appointment with the Cardiology and Neurology specialists at your nearest Gleneagles Hospital.


  1. Cardiovascular diseases, Available at [Assessed at 27 February 2022]
  2. Heart disease is world’s number 1 killer, Available at [Assessed at 27 February 2022]
  3. Stroke or heart attack, Available at [Assessed at 26 February 2022]
  4. Coronary Artery Disease, Available at [Assessed at 27 February 2022]
  5. Stroke, Available at: [Assessed at 27 February 2022]
  6. What is the life expectancy after a brain stroke? Available at: [Assessed at 27 February 2022]
  7. Strokes and heart attacks, Available at:
Gleneagles Hospital Kota Kinabalu
Ambulance / Emergency
+6088 518 911
Gleneagles Hospital Kuala Lumpur
Ambulance / Emergency
+603 4141 3018
Gleneagles Hospital Penang
Ambulance / Emergency
+604 222 9199
Gleneagles Hospital Medini Johor
Ambulance / Emergency
+607 560 1111
Select a hospital