Heart Attack vs Cardiac Arrest: What’s the Difference?

If you hear med­ical terms like heart attack and car­diac arrest thrown around as the same thing on med­ical tele­vi­sion shows, you might think they’re the same. 

They’re actu­al­ly very dif­fer­ent. Both con­di­tions are relat­ed to your heart, but they have dif­fer­ent causes. 

Car­diac arrest hap­pens when there’s an issue with the heart’s elec­tri­cal sys­tem that stops it from beat­ing. A heart attack is caused by a blocked artery that pre­vents your blood from cir­cu­lat­ing to the heart. With both con­di­tions, how­ev­er, your body isn’t get­ting the blood it needs from your heart. 

Here’s more on how heart attacks and car­diac arrest dif­fer — and what to do if they happen.

What is Car­diac Arrest?

Your heart stays busy. It’s always beat­ing and pump­ing blood through­out your body. If your body goes into car­diac arrest, its elec­tri­cal sys­tem mal­func­tions. This makes it so your heart is unable to beat the way it should, caus­ing your heart to arrest” — or stop beat­ing. As a result, blood stops trav­el­ing to your brain and oth­er organs. Untreat­ed, car­diac arrest can lead to death in minutes. 

Imme­di­ate treat­ment can save your life. Treat­ment usu­al­ly includes car­diopul­monary resus­ci­ta­tion, short for CPR, and a defib­ril­la­tor. The goal of the device is to get your heart to beat normally.

Both a heart attack and going into car­diac arrest can be life-threat­en­ing when not treat­ed imme­di­ate­ly. If you have ques­tions or want to learn if you’re at risk of hav­ing either, make an appoint­ment to speak with a Duly Health and Care car­di­ol­o­gist.

What Hap­pens If Some­one Goes Into Car­diac Arrest? 

If some­one goes into car­diac arrest, they may show signs, such as: 

  • Pass­ing out (col­laps­ing sud­den­ly and los­ing consciousness)
  • Not being able to breathe (or breath­ing ineffectively)
  • Being unre­spon­sive
  • Not hav­ing a pulse

    Call 911 if some­one goes into car­diac arrest, then per­form CPR until the para­medics arrive. 

    To help the heart’s blood flow, you can begin by call­ing for imme­di­ate assis­tance and then start chest compressions.

    If you’re unsure how to per­form CPR in an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion, a 911 oper­a­tor can pro­vide step-by-step instructions. 

    Anoth­er life­sav­ing approach is an auto­mat­ed exter­nal defib­ril­la­tor (AED). If one is near­by, this portable device is easy to use and just as effective. 

    This is how an AED works:

    • Fol­low the step-by-step instruc­tions locat­ed on the AED.
    • Sticky pads attached to the device go direct­ly onto the person’s chest.
    • There are sen­sors called elec­trodes that will read the heart’s rhythm.
    • The infor­ma­tion col­lect­ed goes to the portable defibrillator’s computer.
    • If an elec­tri­cal shock is need­ed, the AED will inform you to stand clear of the patient and deliv­er the shock,

      Call­ing 911 and prac­tic­ing these life­sav­ing tech­niques can help when some­one is going into car­diac arrest. 

      What is a Heart Attack?

      When your heart sud­den­ly stops receiv­ing oxy­gen from your blood, you could be hav­ing a heart attack. 

      A heart attack is dif­fer­ent from car­diac arrest. Instead of an elec­tri­cal prob­lem, it’s a block­age prob­lem. Heart attacks hap­pen when the blood that flows through your artery gets stuck on the way to your heart. The artery’s job is to bring your heart oxy­gen-rich blood. 

      When there’s too much plaque buildup — like fat or cho­les­terol — your arter­ies can become blocked. If this hap­pens, the blood can’t get to your heart and the heart can take dam­age over time. The dam­age to your heart gets worse if you go too long with­out treat­ment to unblock the artery. 

      If you think some­one, includ­ing your­self, is hav­ing heart attack symp­toms, don’t wait. Call 911 right away. Imme­di­ate treat­ment increas­es your sur­vival chances.

      Signs of a heart attack include:

      • Chest pain (can feel like tight­ness, pres­sure, squeez­ing, or pain)
      • Dis­com­fort in one or both arms, neck, back, jaw, or stomach
      • Short­ness of breath (with or with­out chest pain)
      • Oth­er signs, such as nau­sea, break­ing out in a cold sweat, lightheadedness

        How is a Heart Attack Treated?

        The cor­ner­stone of treat­ment for a heart attack involves emer­gent­ly restor­ing ade­quate blood flow to your heart by open­ing up the blocked artery. Treat­ment may include:

        • A coro­nary angiogram to visu­al­ize the arter­ies that sup­ply blood to your heart
        • Typ­i­cal­ly with­in the same pro­ce­dure, a per­cu­ta­neous coro­nary inter­ven­tion (PCI) can be per­formed. A bal­loon angio­plas­ty may be per­formed to open up the blocked artery and a stent may be placed to help keep the artery open
        • Med­ica­tion to break up the clots may be required 
        • Coro­nary artery bypass surgery may be rec­om­mend­ed for select individuals 
        • Your doc­tor will help decide the best option 

          If you have a heart attack, your Duly car­di­ol­o­gist will treat you and rec­om­mend a lifestyle plan to help you live a healthy life. 

          Is There a Con­nec­tion Between Car­diac Arrest and a Heart Attack?

          Car­diac arrest and heart attacks aren’t the same, but some­times they can be con­nect­ed. For exam­ple, if you have a heart attack, you may also have a high­er chance of going into car­diac arrest. 

          With both con­di­tions, you’ll want to act quick­ly. The faster you call 911, the soon­er you’ll receive emer­gency med­ical treat­ment, increas­ing your chances of sur­vival. This infor­ma­tion and life­sav­ing approach can make a dif­fer­ence in sav­ing your or some­one else’s life.

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          • My approach to practicing medicine is to establish a collaborative, trusting relationship with my patients so that I can work as a partner and a guide through their health and illness. I aim to deliver high quality medical care and keep my patients comfortable, well-informed and involved in their own health. I treat my patients as I would my own family and friends.