Heart Failure VS Heart Attack - Do You Know the Difference? | MedStar Health

Heart Failure VS Heart Attack - Do You Know the Difference?

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An African-American man clutches his chest while sitting on his livingroom sofa.

Cardiology Terms to Know

By: Athanasios Thomaides, MD, FACC

Heart attack: The medical term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction (MI).  MIs are caused by blocked arteries supplying the muscle of the heart (myocardium).  The blockages are caused by plaque formation and plaque rupture secondary to high cholesterol and hypertension.  Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain (which may be felt in the shoulder, arm, jaw, or upper back), difficulty breathing, sweating, and nausea.

A heart attack is an emergency. If you, or someone around you, develop these signs, call 911 immediately.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is the result of heart rhythm disturbance.  The electrical system of the heart suddenly stops working, causing the heart to quiver and not be able to pump blood throughout the body. Examples of SCD include ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation.  These often lethal arrhythmias cause the sufferer to suddenly collapse and lose consciousness. 

If you experience a sudden loss of consciousness (fainting), you should come to the hospital for evaluation. Although fainting is harmless in many cases, we should make sure that it’s not a sign of a heart rhythm problem.

If you see someone collapse, and they are not breathing, call 911 and look to see if an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available nearby.  If not, start CPR immediately and continue until the ambulance arrives.

Congestive heart failure (CHF), or simply heart failure, is a term used to describe hearts when they no longer function/pump effectively.  This syndrome is frequently caused by weakening of the muscle of the heart, a condition known as cardiomyopathy.  Symptoms of congestive heart failure include difficulty breathing, fatigue, and swelling.  Heart failure is a chronic condition that can often be managed with medication.

Athanasios Thomaides
To schedule a consultation with Dr. Thomaides, call (301) 877-5677.