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What is the Difference Between Heart Attack and Heart Failure?

What is the Difference Between Heart Attack and Heart Failure?

Both these terms are often used as synonyms. Although they are used in such manner, when it comes to their symptoms and causes, there is a fine line of difference between these two terms. Let us start by understanding each of them.

What is the Difference Between Heart Attack and Heart Failure?

What is a Heart Attack?

Heart attack happens when the blood flow to the heart is restricted. This happens when one of the arteries gets blocked, as a result of which oxygen supply to the heart is cut off. Without proper supply of oxygen, heart muscles tend to weaken and die.

A heart attack occurs because of the formation of the blood clot. Usually, a blood clot is formed because a piece of the plaque breaks off. A plaque is formed by calcium, proteins and various cells. All these gets deposited at the lining of the heart and becomes hard and then breaks off. The breaking of the piece results in formation of the blood clot and this clot hinders the blood flow. This is a permanent change and the cells never regenerate once they die. The dying of the cells results in pain and discomfort.

A heart attack can also occur because of the tightening of the coronary artery. It is because of the tightening of the coronary that the blood flow is restricted, as a result of which heart attack occurs.

The various symptoms of heart attack are as follows:

  • Discomfort in various parts of the body like chest, arm, back, jaw and arms.
  • Pressure and heaviness on the body.
  • Pain in various body parts like chest, arms, and back.
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heartbeats become irregular
  • Person cannot breathe properly.

All the above mentioned symptoms last for not more than 30 minutes. It can also happen that patients may have a heart attack without any symptoms. This type of heart attack is known as the “Silent Heart Attack” and is common to patients suffering from diabetes.

What is a Heart Failure?

Heart failure does not occur instantly, it takes time to develop. In case of heart failure, heart muscles first become weak and over a certain period of time, heart muscles start facing trouble in pumping the blood. With time, this condition tends to get worse. If detected early, this condition can be treated with the help of medications. Heart failure is also known as congestive heart failure or congestive cardiac failure. It also leads to a condition known as Ischemia, also known as thinning of the blood.

Heart failure may happen after a heart attack, but vice versa does not happen. It has been seen in most of the cases that heart failure occurs suddenly after heart attack. This type of condition is known as acute heart failure.

Heart failure is of two types: Systolic, in this case the heart muscle does not contract with required force, as a result of which, oxygen does not reach the body.

Diastolic, in this case the heart does contract normally, but the ventricles are stiff, and hence they reduce the pressure to the rest parts of the body.

Causes of Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs if the blood is pushed through a very narrow and blocked space. Overtime, the heart tends to become weak and does not get proper blood supply, hence heart failure.

The various symptoms of heart failure are as follows:

  • Tachypanea: increase in the rate of breathing.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Swelling in various parts of the body like ankle, feet, legs, etc.
  • Liver enlargement.
  • Confusion.
  • Coughing.
  • Dizziness.

For treatment of both the diseases, heart attack and heart failure- patient needs to bring some changes in the lifestyle. It is important for the patient to include some light exercises, make required changes in the diet, and follow important medications. Along with this, the patients should get their condition checked up on a regular basis. Tests like blood test, echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, and stress test should be done on time.


  1. “Heart Attack” – American Heart Association (Link: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack)
  2. “Heart Failure” – Mayo Clinic (Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142)

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 18, 2023

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