How are stroke and heart attack related?

illustration of a brain and heart


Stroke and heart attack are both potentially deadly medical problems. They affect different organs but share common risk factors, cause of injury and treatment options.

A heart attack occurs when blood vessels supplying part of the heart become blocked, usually by a clot. The lack of oxygenated blood leads to damage or death of heart tissue. Similarly, a stroke or "brain attack," occurs when a vessel supplying part of the brain is suddenly blocked, causing death of brain tissue. Stroke and heart attack are often associated because the same risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use, family history, inactive lifestyle) apply to both.  

Because blocked vessels are the common cause of injury in these disorders, treatment is focused on removing the blockage and allowing blood to flow. Depending on the situation, this might be accomplished with the use of clot-busting medications or a procedure that involves inserting a catheter into the blood vessel and trying to physically remove the blockage.  For these treatments to be effective, it is important to recognize the symptoms of stroke or heart attack and immediately call 911. Faster treatment means better long-term outcomes.

Recognition of heart attack symptoms:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (pressure, squeezing, fullness) that may radiate to the shoulders, back, abdomen or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting

Recognition of stroke symptoms:
Infographic: Spot A Stroke: F.A.S.T. FACE: drooping ARM: Weakness SPEECH: Difficulty TIME: to call 911 |

Similarities between stroke and heart attack

  • Both caused by blocked blood vessels and lack of blood flow 
  • Risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, inactive lifestyle and tobacco use
  • Regaining blood flow to the affected area is the treatment goal
  • Rapid recognition of symptoms and emergent medical attention is crucial 

Stroked and heart attacks don't stop during Coronavirus.  Don't ignore the symptoms of a stroke or heart attack. Call 911 right away!