Stroke Association of Queesland
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Are you having a Heart Attack or a Stroke?


2. Comparisons

HEART ATTACK occurs when parts of the HEART MUSCLE are deprived of oxygen and glucose due to a clot or breakaway pieces of plaque restricting its’ blood supply. The heart struggles to do its job and its rhythm is disrupted. Parts of the muscle mass can start to die in moments. The effects of a heart attack will be felt in the upper body usually causing pain, often severe, in the chest, arm, jaw, or neck.

The patient may experience:

  1. Pressure or tightness in the chest
  2. Back pain between the shoulder blades
  3. Feeling of indigestion
  4. Aching or discomfort in arms, neck or jaw
  5. Nausea or vomiting
  6. Shortness of breath
  7. Profuse sweating
  8. Weakness
  9. Dizziness
  10. Feeling faint

    Any or all of the above may be experienced or sometimes none at all.

STROKE (BRAIN ATTACK) occurs when a part of the BRAIN is deprived of oxygen and glucose by blood supply being interrupted by a clot, detached plaque or a ruptured blood vessel (aneurysm).

The patient may experience any or all of the following symptoms: -

  1. Sudden headache from hell for no obvious reason
  2. Sudden dizziness or unsteadiness including unexplained loss of balance
  3. Sudden unexplained falls
  4. Sudden uncharacteristic Confusion
  5. Sudden loss of speech
  6. Sudden difficulty talking or making sense of normal conversation
  7. Sudden dimness or loss of vision, usually in one eye
  8. Difficulty recognizing familiar objects/faces etc
  9. Sudden weakness (as if gravity had increased) on one side of the body affecting any of the leg, arm or facial/mouth/tongue muscles
  10. Numbness and or drooping of one side of the face
  11. Sudden inability to swallow
  12. Sudden acute memory loss

People may experience some or all of these symptoms for less than twenty-four hours duration. These mini strokes/brain attacks are known as Transient Ischaemic Attacks or TIAs and always warrant investigation at a major hospital. They may be the only warning received of a BIG one coming. Occasionally some people have a string of these before disaster strikes but no one can ever be sure. Its much better to be properly checked at a major hospital so the cause can be identified and corrective medication initiated.


Strokes and heart attacks caused by clots or detached plaque can have similarities in their causes but vast difference in their outcomes. Also the equipment used to identify them are very different. Almost every GP has an ECG machine to check on the heart. They are unlikely to have an expensive CATscan machine or a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine, which are necessary to properly investigate Brain Attacks.

Where Clots or detached plaque are concerned, drugs to dissolve clots and thin the blood are usually involved.

These are not appropriate where a ‘bleeder’ or ruptured blood vessel causes a Stroke, as they would exacerbate the problem and may cause death.

With Stroke and TIAs prompt investigation with ultrasound may reveal the arteries in the neck are restricted to a greater or lesser degree. Modern surgical techniques make it possible in many cases to clear the plaque in the obstructed artery or to create a greater passageway for blood to flow through. Many people can survive complete blockage of one artery due to the ‘Circle of Willis’ where blood from the other artery is feeding the opposite end of the bloodvessel looped through the brain. They often don’t know they have a problem until both arteries reach crisis point with plaque. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a complete ‘Circle of Willis’ however. People whose ‘Circle’ isn’t complete strike trouble as soon as the primary artery is restricted even if the other artery is pretty clear.

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