Heart Failure vs Heart Attack: What You Need To Know

Written by Blessing Ifunanya Maduelosi on Tue, 01 August 2023 โ€” Fact checked by Dr. Sintayehu Abebe

Key Highlights

  • Failure of the heart to pump enough blood can cause heart failure.
  • Heart dysfunction due to a lack of blood supply triggers a heart attack.
  • Heart failure and heart attack are two different entities, both being fatal.

What is heart failure?

When your heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to satisfy the requirements of your body, you may have heart failure. There are three types of heart failure:

  1. Left ventricular heart failure
  2. Right-sided and biventricular heart failure
  3. Congestive heart failure

What is a heart attack?

Myocardial infarction is the clinical name for heart attack. A heart attack occurs whenever blood flow to a region of the heart is obstructed and tissues do not get enough oxygen. The heart muscles are potentially injured and die if blood flow is not immediately restored. According to the American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs every 40 seconds in the United States.

Key differences between heart attack and heart failure

Coronary heart disease causes heart attack

The formation of plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries (arteries that supply blood to the heart walls) is known as atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, the coronary arteries become narrow. When the plaque ruptures, blood clot forms and obstructs the coronary blood flow partially or wholly, leading to a heart attack.

An acute stiffening or spasm of the coronary blood vessels impedes blood flow, and this is the second common cause of a heart attack.

These two causes are known as coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease. This can occur because of extreme emotional and physical stress, excessive cold, or the use of narcotics such as cocaine.

What are the Causes of Heart Failure?

In systolic failure, the heart may weaken or be injured by accident resulting from chronic disorders like coronary heart disease, arrhythmia, cardiac valve problems, or damage from earlier attacks.

Diastolic failure is caused by disorders that make your heart work harder to pump blood, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal weight gain. The heart tissue may tighten because of this.

Left-sided heart failure frequently leads to right-sided heart failure. Blood engorges in the heart's right atrium while its left side weakens, forcing it to pump harder. Congenital heart failure, pulmonary embolism, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are a few other causes of heart failure1.

Symptoms of heart attack and heart failure

Though heart attack and heart failure are commonly called heart diseases, the symptoms are not always the same.

Symptoms of heart attack

  • Mild to severe chest pain that radiates from the heart to arms, shoulders, back, neck, and sometimes, even up to the lower jaw
  • Dyspnea or shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme exhaustion

Symptoms of heart failure

a) Left-sided heart failure:

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Breathlessness
  • Cyanosis
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Difficulty in sleeping flat on your back

b) Right-sided heart failure:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Swelling in legs or abdomen
  • Obesity
  • Polyuria

c) Biventricular heart failure usually manifests symptoms that may overlap with right and left-sided heart failure.

If you suspect a heart attack, what should you do

A heart attack is a life-threatening emergency that demands immediate medical attention to avoid serious consequences or fatality.

If you experience any symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately. The sooner you begin treatment for a heart attack, the better the prognosis of your condition.

If you're unsure about the signs and symptoms, it may be a good idea to consult your healthcare provider. If your symptoms aren't caused by a heart attack, they could indicate another medical problem that may need attention and care.

What are the early warning signs of a heart attack

It is essential to understand that heart attacks donโ€™t always happen the way they are shown in commercial movies or television. Symptoms differ from person to person. Women are more prone to experience unusual weariness, nausea, and lightheadedness.

Some of the most commonly observed signs and symptoms of heart attack are:

  • Dyspnea or shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Feeling dizzy and nauseous
  • Vomiting
  • Exhaustion
  • Chest pain radiating to the arms, shoulders, back, neck, and lower jaw.

Is it possible to halt a heart attack quickly

There are no home remedies to treat heart attacks without professional medical assistance. You may have come across multiple heart attack DIY (do-it-yourself) hacks on the internet. These self-proclaimed therapies can be potentially harmful and may prove deadly without any medical supervision.

  • Cough CPR: Some websites claim deep breathing followed by deep coughing can temporarily elevate blood pressure, increasing blood flow to the brain. According to this theory, if the heartbeats are normal, a forceful cough may be able to restore the blood flow. On the other hand, the American Heart Association does not recommend cough CPR. Moreover, this technique cannot be utilized to treat an unconscious person who cannot cough.
  • Cayenne pepper: Drinking a mixture of one tablespoon of cayenne pepper in one glass of water is another web tip that lacks clinical evidence. Cayenne pepper is believed to stimulate heart rate, increase blood circulation, and stop bleeding too.

However, there is no scientific evidence suggesting cayenne pepper or even other peppers are beneficial when eaten during the onset of a heart attack.

How are heart attacks and heart failures diagnosed

A doctor most likely identifies a heart attack based on the patient's complaints, medical history, and clinical manifestations. The diagnostic algorithm to confirm heart attack should be pursued immediately after the patient is stabilized following the emergence of medical care. Electrocardiogram (ECG), routine blood investigations, a treadmill or stress test, and coronary angiography are performed to confirm the incidence of a heart attack.

Once these tests confirm heart attack, more blood tests and echocardiography are recommended for detailed investigation and medical decisions. If the results of these investigations are ambiguous, your doctor may suggest additional specific tests such as CT and MRI for confirmed diagnosis.

What Steps Should You Follow to Improve Heart Health?

Despite significant differences in their causes, symptoms, and therapies, heart attacks and heart failure have many common risk factors. The risk factors that must be worked upon to improve your heart health are:

  • Age
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Smoking
  • High sodium retention
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Here are a few simple steps that can help you improve your lifestyle habits and improve your heart health: ยท Consuming high sugar, high salt, and high-fat foods can prove disastrous to your health. Eat a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and unsaturated fats.

  • Alcohol consumption should be limited (two drinks for men and one drink for women each day).
  • If you smoke, prepare a plan with the help of your healthcare provider to quit the habit.
  • Exercise regularly. Thirty minutes of physical activity five days a week is a worthy goal.
  • Obesity increases your chances of developing heart disease. Follow safe weight loss methods by consulting a cardiac physician.
  • Ensure that every medical problem is effectively managed. If you're taking medication, follow your doctor's instructions. Routine checks can aid in the early detection and treatment of health problems, such as heart disease.


Heart attack and heart failure share numerous common risk factors. While a heart attack occurs when blood flow to a region of the heart is cut off partially or wholly, heart failure occurs when the heart cannot adequately pump blood to all regions of the body.

Although heart attack and heart failure have different origins, clinical features, and treatment options, the approaches to prevent them are pretty similar. Eating a good and balanced diet, exercising regularly, and taking care of comorbidities and health issues are some ways to avoid these cardiovascular events.


Blessing Ifunanya Maduelosi

Blessing Ifunanya Maduelosi is a pharmacist by profession; her health credentials include a BPharm (Bachelor of Pharmacy). Blessing is a resident of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.

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  1. Velma

    Wed, 01 February 2023, 1 year ago

    Want to know more about health matters


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    Current Version

    Aug, 01 2023

    Written By

    Blessing Ifunanya Maduelosi

    Fact checked By

    Dr. Sintayehu Abebe