What Is the Difference Between Congestive Heart Failure vs. Heart Attack?

What's the difference between congestive heart failure vs. heart attack symptoms?

If you have a history of cardiovascular disease or are worried about your heart health, it can be overwhelming to learn about all the possible conditions and terms associated with cardiovascular health. Two of these terms that often get confused are congestive heart failure (CHF) and heart attack. While both can threaten your cardiac health, they differ in how they occur and in symptoms, treatments, and outcomes. Let’s take a closer look at these terms and the difference between them.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently, leading to a buildup of fluid in the lungs and other parts of the body. This condition can affect people of all ages. But, it is more common in older individuals and those with a history of heart disease. In fact, the Heart Failure Society of America estimates that nearly 6.5 million Americans over 20 years old have experienced heart failure.

Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and sleep apnea. Heart defects can also increase your risk of heart failure.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

Recognizing the symptoms of CHF is crucial for timely diagnosis and intervention. Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Persistent coughing, wheezing, or trouble breathing
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen (edema)
  • Waking up breathless or for frequent urination
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Reduced ability to exercise or perform physical activities

In addition to recognizing the symptoms of congestive heart failure, make sure to understand the condition’s four stages.

Diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure

To diagnose CHF, our experienced cardiologists at Cardiovascular Institute of the South use a combination of medical history reviews, physical examinations, and diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Echocardiogram: Evaluates the heart’s structure and function using ultrasound, helping identify any abnormalities.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): Measures the heart’s electrical activity and detects irregular rhythms.
  • Chest X-ray: Provides images of the heart and lungs, revealing signs of fluid buildup.
  • Blood tests: May be used to assess kidney and liver function and check for specific biomarkers related to heart failure.

In addition to these tests, your physician may utilize remote cardiac monitoring for testing and early detection. These convenient wearable devices can remotely gather information about your cardiac health to share with your physician.

Preventative Measures for Congestive Heart Failure

While some risk factors for CHF cannot be controlled, such as age and family history, patients can adopt lifestyle changes to reduce their risk or manage the condition.

  • Maintain a heart-healthy diet low in sodium and saturated fats.
  • Engage in regular physical activity to strengthen the heart.
  • Control blood pressure and cholesterol levels through medication and lifestyle changes.
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Manage underlying conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

Heart Attack

According to the CDC, 805,000 people in the United States experience a heart attack each year. A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, occurs when there is a sudden blockage in one of the coronary arteries, which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. This condition is a medical emergency. Without prompt medical attention, a heart attack can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle or worse—a loss of life. 

Symptoms of Heart Attack

Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack can be life-saving. There are some overlapping symptoms of congestive heart failure vs. heart attack, like rapid heart rate and shortness of breath. However, there are a few common signs of heart attack that set it apart:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea, vomiting, or indigestion
  • Cold sweat or lightheadedness
  • Unexplained anxiety or fatigue
  • Feelings of fullness or squeezing in the chest

Additional subtle heart attack or disease symptoms occur in women, such as upper body pain in the neck, jaw, back, and arms.

If you or a loved one is experiencing heart attack symptoms, call 911 and seek immediate medical assistance.

Diagnosis of Heart Attack

When a heart attack is suspected, quick diagnosis and intervention are crucial. The diagnostic process may involve:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This test records the heart’s electrical activity and can reveal abnormal patterns associated with a heart attack.
  • Blood tests: Cardiac enzyme tests can detect heart proteins that have entered the bloodstream during a heart attack.
  • Coronary angiography: A catheter is inserted into the coronary arteries to visualize any blockages or narrow areas.

If your physician determines that you have had or are at risk for a heart attack, they may prescribe medications such as aspirin, clot busters, or blood thinners to help prevent blockages. Coronary surgeries and cardiac rehabilitation may also be considered for your treatment plan.

Preventative Measures for Heart Attack

Preventing a heart attack involves managing risk factors and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.

  • Follow a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Engage in regular exercise to maintain cardiovascular fitness.
  • Control blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes through medication and lifestyle changes.
  • Quit smoking and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Limit alcohol intake and avoid illicit drug use.

Congestive Heart Failure vs. Heart Attack: Take Preventative Measures With Cardiovascular Institute of the South

Understanding the difference between congestive heart failure vs. heart attack is crucial for recognizing the symptoms and seeking timely medical attention. If you or a loved one have a history of heart disease or any concerns about heart health, reach out to Cardiovascular Institute of the South. Our team of skilled cardiologists is dedicated to providing cutting-edge cardiovascular care to communities across Louisiana and Mississippi. Call to schedule an appointment at your nearest location or request an appointment online to take charge of your heart health and well-being. With early detection and proper management, you can prevent heart attack and congestive heart failure.

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff