What is the difference between a heart attack and heart failure?

Heart disease is a major health risk all over the world. It is estimated by WHO that by 2020, 1 in every 4 people would be suffering from heart ailments. In this era of fast food delivery at our fingertips and high stress, sedentary lifestyles, hundreds of new patients approach the hospitals for the Best cardiologist in Mumbai or in the city near them, with suspected cardiac illnesses. Since it’s such a big health risk, it becomes essential to know and understand the common heart ailments. Having the knowledge of common heart diseases and their symptoms can help you identify the symptoms you may see in yourself or others around you.

In this article, lets understand the difference between heart attack and heart failure. They are commonly confused and used interchangeably but they are two entirely different conditions. Heart attack and heart failure are both forms of heart disease – they have common causes but they differ in significant ways.

A heart attack occurs suddenly and abruptly when arteries stop supplying blood to the heart or a part of the heart. These arteries get clogged due to a clot and it typically results in the death of the heart muscle due to the inability to maintain the flow of blood to the heart. This is an acute event, which means it occurs in a short period of time. If the artery doesn’t get repaired in a short span of time, the section of heart it typically supplied oxygen-rich blood to begins to die.

Heart failure, on the other hand, is a chronic ailment, where the heart muscle becomes weaker and can’t pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. It happens over a long period of time as the heart muscle starts to get progressively weaker and either is unable to fill up with the proper amount of blood to supply the body or get too weak to pump blood correctly to all areas of the body. It can affect the right side of the heart or in most cases, both sides of the heart. It is also referred to as congestive heart failure and can have a number of complications including pulmonary complications like pneumonia and pulmonary embolus.

One of the main underlying causes of both heart attack and heart failure is the coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease happens when there is an accumulation of plaque, which is a waxy substance, and it builds up in the arteries which provide blood to the heart, making them narrower. This also causes the hardening of arteries which in turn provides higher resistance to the blood flow to the heart. This build up happens due to excessive unhealthy fat in the bloodstream due to a healthy diet and can start from a very young age. Coronary artery disease can lead to both heart attack and heart failure depending on the fate of the plaque.

 Causes of heart attack

 When a piece of plaque breaks off, it can form a blood clot that stops the flow of blood if it gets stuck in an artery.  Hence heart attack happens due to a lack of flow of blood flow which results in a lack of oxygen supply to the heart or a part of the heart.

 Causes of heart failure

 Heart failure is a chronic condition as it happens over a period of time. Over time if the heart is pushing blood through a narrow space it becomes weaker. Heart failure can also stem from other conditions which include heart valve disease, congenital heart disease, infections, cardiomyopathy, and many others.

 Symptoms of heart attack

 The symptoms can vary from person to person. They also can be different for males and females. Some of the common signs of a heart attack include the following

 – pain or pressure in the center of the chest which feels like squeezing kind of pain and can be often confused with heartburn. The pain might come and go or last for several minutes and can be mild or severe. Some people might not have any chest pain during a heart attack

– pain and discomfort in the upper body which can radiate to the left side towards arms, jaw, and neck or other areas

– difficulty in breathing and nausea, vomiting, feeling of light-headedness, feeling very weak or tired and breaking out in a cold sweat. These symptoms are especially more common in women

 Symptoms of heart failure

 A patient of heart failure may have more than one of these symptoms

 – shortness of breath while lying down

 -fast or irregular heartbeat


 -swelling around ankle legs hostel or weight gain due to fluid retention

-wheezing or coughing


As the age old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. One must go for yearly routine health checkups to have a better understanding of one’s system. If you have deranged levels of blood sugar tests, Hb1Ac, lipid profile and blood pressure, it is mandatory to fix an appointment with the best cardiologist in Mumbai or the city near you to gain a better understanding of the possible underlying cause and start the medications and lifestyle changes prescribed.

Heart attacks need to be treated immediately. Call for emergency even if you are suspecting a heart attack. The paramedics may give you blood thinners like aspirin to break down the clot and nitroglycerine to ease the blood flow to the heart.

There may be a need for an immediate procedure to open the blocked artery and your doctor could suggest coronary artery bypass. If you are already on medications your doctor might change the dosage and suggest how to manage your underline heart disease through lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. Doctors may prescribe the same drugs for heart failure and also put you on diuretics to lower the fluid retention and ease with the pulmonary congestion.

All cardiac ailments stem from the root cause of a bad lifestyle. A poor lifestyle is prevalent these days due to our sedentary lifestyles, high stress work conditions, diet consisting of refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Small lifestyle changes like tracking your food, getting 40-45 minutes of exercise, quitting smoking, cutting down alcohol, salt and fats, losing weight, incorporating meditation and yoga can keep your heart healthy and save you a trip to the hospitals and the best cardiologist in Mumbai, along with keeping you disease free for a long time!

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