What is the Difference between a Heart Attack and Congestive Heart Failure?


What is the Difference between a Heart Attack and Congestive Heart FailureOverview: Heart attack and heart failure are two medical terms that are often used interchangeably, but in fact describe two different conditions. However, heart attacks can lead to heart failure; for this reason, they share some similar risk factors.

Heart Attack

A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, is when the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart is blocked; this can permanently damage a section of the heart muscle. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, heart attacks are the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US.

The blockage resulting in a heart attack is often caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which accumulates through the buildup of cholesterol; this is a condition known as atherosclerosis. If this plaque becomes large enough, a piece of it can break off. The triggers a blood clot to form on the surface of the clot, which can inhibit blood flow to the heart. Although it is less common, heart attacks can also be caused by severe spasms in the coronary arteries, which cut off blood flow.


Common signs of a heart attack include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort or pain in the chest that extends to the shoulders, arm, back, even teeth and jaw
  • Chest pain that gets increasingly worse; often feels like a squeezing pain the center of your chest that can last for more than a few minutes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of energy

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive Heart failure is when the heart muscles are weakened and unable to pump blood in a normal, healthy way; it does not mean that the heart has stopped working. Since the blood flows at a slower rate, the pressure in the heart builds. In attempt to compensate, the heart stretches or becomes hardened. While this helps the blood flow temporarily, eventually the heart is weakened and unable to pump as needed. When this happens, the kidneys often respond by causing fluid retention. This causes fluid buildup in various parts of the body, including arts, legs, ankles, and other organs and body becomes congested.

The heart can be weakened through heart attacks, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, long-term alcoholism, heart valve disorders


Signs of congestive heart failure include

  • Fatigue
  • Edema
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased urination
  • Nausea, abdominal pain


Caused by Medication?

Certain medications have been linked to heart attack and congestive heart failure. Actos (pioglitazone) for instance, is a type 2 diabetes medication that has been linked to both heart attack and congestive heart failure. Originally, it was thought that this drug was safer for cardiac health than its sister drug Avandia, but over time it became apparent that the drug is not without heart risks. Actos has also been repeatedly linked to bladder cancer. Tekturna, a type of hypertension drug, has also been linked to heart attacks.

Seeking Treatment

If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. For non-emergency situations, speak to your cardiologist and be sure to mention if you take Actos or Tekturna.