The terms ‘heart attack’ and ‘cardiac arrest’ can be thrown around in general conversation as if they mean the same thing.
And knowing the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest can make a huge difference when trying to save a person’s life.
A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction. This may be where it gets confused with cardiac arrest.
Infarction means localized tissue in or around the heart is in danger, or has died, due to an obstruction preventing blood reaching it.
Arrest means stop. In other words, the heart has stopped beating entirely.
One key difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest is that cardiac arrest occurs within the heart, while heart attacks are from artery problems.
Both can kill. Knowing the difference can save a life, especially if you know CPR or if you carry with you a portable CPR mask that has instructions.
In the United States the heart attack is at the top of the list of killers. A heart attack is caused by a problem in the circulation very close to the heart itself and oxygen-carrying blood can’t get to a heart muscle. This is often due to a clogged, blocked, or malfunctioning artery. The chamber of the heart that is fed by that artery then deteriorates.
A person may remain conscious during a heart attack or may lose consciousness. But the person will have a pulse because the heart has not stopped.
The wait time from onset to treatment has a direct correlation to damage. The quicker the response, the less the damage may be.
One of the biggest differences between heart attack and cardiac arrest is that the former has clear symptoms that can be in clusters:
Some mild symptoms can go on for weeks.
Women and men can experience very similar symptoms, although women tend to get the ‘heartburn’ or ‘flu’ symptoms more often than chest pain.
Cardiac arrest means the heart stops beating entirely. The term is used when the heart of a patient in surgery stops, not just when a person collapses and is unresponsive.
It is an issue with the body’s electrical system. It can happen suddenly with no warning signs. The heart goes into arrhythmia where pumping is disrupted. In moments, the person falls unconscious and the heart stops. Death happens in minutes unless treatment is administered.
Quick action saves lives.