Symptoms of Heart Attack and Stroke

Knowing the warning signs that precede hours or even weeks before

Heart attack and stroke are the two leading causes of death worldwide. Knowing the symptoms and signs that precede can help people approach healthcare earlier and prevent most deaths. 

According to the CDC, every 36 seconds, an American dies from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Stroke and heart attack are both types of CVDs.

Specific warning signs precede hours or even weeks before a stroke or a heart attack occurs. Promptly identifying these warning signs and reaching urgent treatment facilities can prevent serious injury to the brain and heart.

Heart Attack Symptoms 

When the blood flow to the heart is blocked, a heart attack happens. In most cases, the blockage is an accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other substances that form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart.

A plaque can sometimes rupture and form a clot that prevents the flow of blood. The blood flow that is disrupted can injure or destroy part of the heart muscle. With insufficient blood and oxygen, the heart muscle starts to die, and the heart can’t pump sufficient blood to other body parts.

If an artery to the heart gets entirely blocked, it leads to abrupt heart attack symptoms like sudden severe pain in your chest or arms, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue, etc. Act immediately and call for emergency medical help. Some people wait too long because they don’t recognize the critical signs and symptoms – call for emergency help first.  

If an artery to the heart is partially blocked, the diminished blood flow can give warning signs starting hours or days before a heart attack occurs. The symptoms are similar to those above and may include tightness or pressure in your chest, shortness of breath, pain in your neck or jaw, and fatigue for no apparent cause.  

Some heart attacks strike unexpectedly, but many people have warning signs and symptoms in advance. Recurrent chest pain or pressure exacerbated by activity and relieved by rest may be the earliest sign.

Stroke Symptoms

A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain gets blocked and brain cells begin to die within minutes. A stroke is a medical emergency, and immediate treatment is crucial – do not wait or second guess your symptoms. 

The symptoms of stroke may include suddenly altered consciousness, weakness in the face, arms, legs (one or both sides of the body), difficulty understanding, difficulty speaking, difficulty seeing, vertigo (like the room is spinning), and sudden headache. In addition, women may have additional symptoms like generalized weakness and fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and memory problems. Not all signs are alike; strokes affect you differently based on where they occur in the brain.

There are three main types of stroke:

  • An ischemic stroke occurs when blood clots or other particles block the blood vessels to the brain. Fatty deposits called plaque can also cause blockages by building up in the blood vessels.

  • hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel bursts in the brain. Blood builds up and damages the surrounding brain tissue.

  • transient ischemic attack, often known as a TIA, occurs when blood supply to the brain is temporarily disrupted. 

Ischemic Stroke (Clot)

Ischemic events trigger 87% of all strokes. The word ischemia means blood flow restriction. One of the arteries supplying the brain gets blocked in this form of stroke, and cells and brain tissue quickly die as a result.

Ischemic strokes are split into two main types: 

Embolic: While blood clots often cause embolic strokes, since they occur somewhere else in the body, they are different from thrombotic forms. They ultimately limit blood supply to the brain by traveling through the bloodstream. 

Thrombotic: A thrombotic stroke is a type of ischemic stroke that occurs when a blood clot, also known as a thrombus, blocks the flow of blood through the artery in which it has developed. Thrombotic strokes are divided into two categories large-vessel thrombosis and small-vessel thrombosis.

Hemorrhagic Stroke (Bleeding)

Hemorrhagic strokes result from burst blood vessels, while clots and blockages cause ischemic strokes. It affects brain tissue and cells by increased swelling and pressure when blood from a ruptured vessel spills into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are divided into two categories intracerebral and subarachnoid.

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA) 

Research from the American Academy Of Neurology shows that an ischemic stroke’s warning signs can appear a week before a stroke occurs. Seeking prompt medical care can prevent stroke and brain damage. The study showed that most people who experienced a stroke had TIA within the seven days preceding the ischemic stroke. The researchers also emphasize that immediate medical help within hours of TIA can significantly reduce the incidence of strokes.  

TIA is a ‘mini-stroke’ but a major warning sign with similar symptoms. They act as a warning sign that a person is at risk for strokes in the future, although they typically do not cause permanent brain damage or death. 40% of individuals who have a TIA will go on to have a stroke in the future.

Spot the Symptoms FAST

It is crucial to readily spot the symptoms of stroke F.A.S.T.

Face Drooping  Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?

Arm Weakness  Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech  Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.

Time to Call 9-1-1  If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.


Take-Home Message

Heart attack and stroke are the prevalent causes of death worldwide. Knowing their symptoms and warning signs preceding and during these events, recognizing the emergency, and immediately reaching medical help may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and heart attack and even prevent death.