What’s the difference between heart failure and a heart attack

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Heart-related issues are a leading cause of concern worldwide, with heart failure and heart attacks often being at the forefront of cardiovascular problems.

Despite their somewhat similar names, heart failure and heart attacks are distinct conditions, each with its own causes, symptoms, and treatments.

This review aims to demystify these differences in simple terms, shedding light on how these two heart conditions affect the body and what sets them apart.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack, medically known as myocardial infarction, occurs suddenly when the blood flow to a part of the heart muscle is severely reduced or completely blocked.

This is usually the result of coronary artery disease, where the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrowed due to a buildup of fatty deposits called plaques.

If a plaque ruptures, it can form a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle, causing tissue damage or death in the affected area.

Symptoms of a heart attack can include intense chest pain, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

It’s a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to restore blood flow and minimize heart muscle damage.

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure, on the other hand, is a chronic condition that develops over time, indicating the heart’s inability to pump blood as well as it should.

This doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working, but rather that it’s not working as efficiently as it needs to meet the body’s demands.

Heart failure can result from conditions that overwork the heart or damage its tissue, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart valve problems, or previous heart attacks.

Symptoms of heart failure often include shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen legs, and rapid heartbeat. People with heart failure might find it hard to exercise, may feel tired all the time, or wake up at night unable to breathe properly.

It’s a chronic condition that requires lifelong management through medication, lifestyle changes, and sometimes surgery or devices to help the heart function more effectively.

The Key Differences

The primary difference between a heart attack and heart failure lies in their onset and development. A heart attack is a sudden, acute event caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart.

Heart failure is a gradual process where the heart’s ability to pump blood declines over time due to various underlying conditions.

Another significant difference is how they are treated and managed. Heart attacks require immediate medical intervention to restore blood flow and prevent further damage to the heart muscle.

Treatment often includes medication, lifestyle changes, and possibly procedures like angioplasty or surgery.

Heart failure, being a chronic condition, focuses on managing symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease through medications, dietary and lifestyle adjustments, and monitoring for any changes in condition.


Understanding the differences between heart failure and a heart attack is crucial for recognizing their signs and seeking appropriate care.

While both conditions involve the heart, their causes, symptoms, and treatments differ significantly. Heart attacks are sudden and acute, requiring immediate action to save heart muscle and life.

Heart failure develops gradually, requiring ongoing management to enhance quality of life and prevent the condition from worsening. Awareness and education about these conditions can lead to better outcomes and healthier lives for those affected.

If you care about heart disease, please read studies that herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm, and how eating eggs can help reduce heart disease risk.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies that apple juice could benefit your heart health, and results showing yogurt may help lower the death risks in heart disease.

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