Medical Monday: What's the difference between heart attack and heart failure?

Posted at 8:06 PM, Feb 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-13 21:06:27-05
Dr. Witmer is a cardiologist with Aurora BayCare. He joined us on Wisconsin Tonight to talk about the difference between heart attack and heart failure.
A heart attack refers to the death of heart muscle tissue caused by a sudden arterial blockage. The most common symptoms associated are chest, arm and neck pain. It is important to seek medical help as soon as chest pain and associated symptoms occur.
Congestive heart failure is the buildup of fluids either in your lungs or in your legs or both, based on the malfunction or weakening of your heart. The malfunction can be due to loss of pumping function, aging, high blood pressure, or other causes.
A heart attack happens when an artery in your heart becomes clogged and oxygen cannot get to the muscle. This causes damage to your heart because a part of the heart muscle dies.
Congestive heart failure is a term we use to describe a heart that is weakened from damage. The damage can be from a heart attack or from other conditions like viruses. The heart cannot pump blood effectively and some blood backs up into the body.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute outlines major risk factors for a heart attack. Those that you can control include:
* Smoking
* High blood pressure
* High blood cholesterol
* Overweight and obesity
* An unhealthy diet (for example, a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium)
* Lack of routine physical activity
* High blood sugar due to insulin resistance or diabetes
Risk factors you can’t control include:
* Age. The risk of heart disease increases for men after age 45 and for women after age 55 (or after menopause).
* Family history of early heart disease. Your risk increases if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before 55 years of age, or if your mother or a sister was diagnosed with heart disease before 65 years of age.
Heart failure is more common in:
* People who are age 65 or older. Aging can weaken the heart muscle.
* People who are overweight. Excess weight puts strain on the heart.
* People who have had a heart attack. Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack and can weaken the heart muscle.
What are warning signs of heart attack?
Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you feel:
* Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back.
* Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
* Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
* Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
If you have heart failure, or are caring for someone who does, here are the most important symptoms to monitor:
* Shortness of breath with everyday activities
* Swelling in legs, feet and ankles
* Persistent dry, hacking cough or wheezing
* Lightheadedness or fatigue
* Lack of appetite
* Trouble sleeping when you lie flat
* Rapid weight gain (three or more pounds in a day)
There are a number of things you can do to minimize your risk of any heart disease. For starters, you should:
* Know your blood pressure and manage it
* Exercise regularly
* Don’t smoke or if you do, quit now
* Get tested for diabetes and if you have it, manage it
* Know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and manage them
* Include a lot of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet
* Maintain a healthy weight
Talk to your physician or cardiologist to create a prevention plan for you.
For information, call Aurora BayCare Cardiology at 800-236-6309.