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CCF - The difference between heart failure and heart attack
Know the Difference: Heart Failure, Heart Attack

These distinct cardiac maladies can be managed — even reversed — with early, targeted treatment. But first, it helps to know the difference, and the symptoms.
Heart Attack

Known medically as myocardial infarction, heart attack refers to heart muscle death usually caused by a blocked blood vessel or spasm that chokes off the blood supply. Symptoms include:

    * pain in the chest, back, arms or jaw
    * shortness of breath
    * sweating
    * nausea

Physicians immediately treat patients with blood-thinning drugs and may insert balloons and stents to remove clots and open vessels. In certain cases, they may perform immediate bypass surgery to reroute blood around clogged arteries and into the heart.

Above all, response to someone having a heart attack must be rapid, says cardiologist Marianela Areces, MD, of Cleveland Clinic in Florida.

“The sooner you open the artery, the sooner you may salvage cells that might otherwise die,” Dr. Areces says. “Time is muscle.”
Heart Failure

In heart failure, the heart may weaken over time so that it cannot efficiently pump blood around the body, or the heart may become stiff and unable to properly relax.

Damage to the heart may stem from previous heart attacks, consistently high blood pressure or even an infection, among other causes. Symptoms include:

    * fatigue
    * swollen feet
    * shortness of breath

These symptoms tend to be caused by fluid backing up into the lungs. Patients often ascribe such symptoms to old age or just being out of shape. However, the sooner patients recognize the symptoms, the faster they’ll receive potentially life-saving treatment, chiefly drugs that flush out fluids, lower blood pressure and help the heart squeeze harder, says cardiologist Cristiana Scridon, MD, of Cleveland Clinic in Florida.

Physicians also advise a low-salt diet to control blood pressure. In the most severe cases, both heart attack and failure can require heart transplantation or lead to death. With early, targeted treatment, however, these distinct maladies of the heart can be managed — even reversed, says Dr. Areces.

“There is much we can do to save this beautiful, yet complex machine,” Dr. Areces says.

Originally featured in Cleveland Clinic Magazine, Summer 2008.

To make a gift supporting the Heart & Vascular Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit iSupport, our secure online giving site, or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.
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