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Heart Attack and Heart Failure- What is the difference?


The heart pumps the blood and circulates it to the entire body. It carries the oxygen and nutrients to the tissue and the waste products from the tissue. In turn, blood gets the oxygen and nutrients via the coronary arteries to function continuously.

If the blood supply to the heart is deficient, the cardiac muscles suffer from hypoxia and ultimately die. Cardiac muscle cells are irreplaceable. Prior to the complete blockage of a coronary artery, most people with narrowed coronary arteries will experience a symptom known as angina. It is usually described as a discomfort in the chest and can radiate to the arms (usually left), neck, or jaw. Usually, this pain goes away with rest or after taking a medication to help improve blood flow to the heart muscle.

Most heart attacks develop in conjunction with coronary artery disease (CAD). In CAD, plaque gradually builds up in the coronary artery leading to a disease known as atherosclerosis. The combination of plaque formation along with a blood clot is the typical reason for blockage of the coronary artery causing the heart attack. Some of the contributing factors leading to heart attack due to blockage are obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and sedentary lifestyle.

If the blood supply is cut off critically, the muscle dies to cause severe, unbearable pain. This is called myocardial infarction or heart attack. A heart attack usually occurs suddenly. Severe chest pain with sweating is seen in the myocardial infarction. The severity of the heart attack depends on how big a blood vessel was blocked, and therefore how much heart muscle died.

An extensive heart attack may cause heart failure.

Heart failure basically means ‘heart inefficiency’ to pump the required amount of blood each time it beats. It is a condition where the heart fails to pump out enough blood to the body causing ischemia of the body tissues.

A chronic progressive process from coronary disease or other diseases affects the heart muscle, making it weak. Common factors that can lead to heart failure are high blood pressure, alcohol, and problems with the heart valves.

Heart failure is not an acute process and is not painful. It does not lead to sudden death. The symptoms and signs of heart failure are gradual unlike those in a heart attack. The symptoms of heart failure include swelling of the tissues, difficulty in breathing, irregular pulse, difficult to sleep and fatigue.

When the electrical impulses cease and the heart stops to beat, it leads to cardiac arrest. A person with cardiac arrest dies due to fatal cardiac shock.


We at Cheema Medical Complex have a facility of catheterization laboratory or cath lab which is well-equipped for the effective diagnosis of the heart attack. Various diagnostic tests we recommend and perform on the patients suspected with heart attack are:

  • A series of electrocardiograms (ECGs) using Holter
  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiography
  • Nuclear imaging
  • Exercise tolerance (stress) test –TMT
  • Coronary angiography
  • Angioplasty

Some points to note:

  • Heart attack differs from heart failure.
  • Heart failure is a clinical diagnosis.
  • Heart attack is a medical emergency.
  • A heart attack may be a cause for heart failure
  • Severe chest pain is the feature of a heart attack.