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Baylor College of Medicine News

Heart attack vs. heart failure

While a heart attack can lead to heart failure, the two are separate heart ailments with different causes and prevention methods. Doctors at Baylor College of Medicine explain the two heart events and offer some prevention tips.

“Heart attacks are usually acute in onset and result from sudden interruption, complete or near complete, of blood flow to a segment of the heart due to a clot obstructing the coronary artery,” said Dr. Hani Jneid, assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and interventional cardiologist and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “Heart failure results from either a weak heart muscle that is unable to pump blood forward or a stiff heart muscle that is unable to relax and accommodate normal blood flow throughout the body without increased pressure inside the heart.”

Symptoms

While some symptoms for both heart events are similar, symptoms develop over a longer period of time during heart failure.

A gradual shortness of breath is a hallmark of heart failure. This can occur when you exert yourself or when at rest. A build up of fluid in the lungs or lower extremities (edema) and abdomen is also sometimes seen. There can also be a persistent cough or wheezing as well as fatigue and weakness.

The most common symptom for a heart attack is chest discomfort – usually pain, tightness or a feeling of fullness or heaviness. It is also associated with shortness of breath, nausea and lightheadedness.

“Any chest discomfort should be reported to your doctor. It is also important to ask your doctor about what risk factors you might face,” said Jneid.

Prevention methods

Since the two heart events have different causes, some prevention methods differ.

Heart attack prevention centers on avoiding a buildup of atherosclerosis plaque (deposits of fat and other substances in the lining of the artery wall). One way to control this is by changing your diet.

Jneid suggests following the American Heart Association recommended-diet for patients with heart attacks, which is similar to a Mediterranean diet. This consists of fruits and vegetables, non-fat dairy products whole grains, beans, legumes and olive oil, along with eating fish a couple times a week.

“Measuring and treating cholesterol and blood pressure is also important,” said Jneid. “Medications, along with diet changes, are usually needed.”

Since one of the symptoms of heart failure is fluid buildup in lungs or extremities, prevention consists of cutting down salt intake and controlling blood pressure. Some patients must also monitor their water intake and are usually prescribed diuretics. A healthy diet is also advised since heart failure shares many of the same risk factor for heart attacks.

Talk to your doc

“Most importantly, you should see a doctor regularly to check your risk factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure,” said Jneid. “By talking with your doctor you will be able to find the right prevention or treatment methods for your needs.”