Most people think the terms “Heart Attack” and “Cardiac Arrest” are essentially the same thing.
But they’re really quite different. And knowing that can literally mean the difference between life and death.
A Heart Attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked or severely slowed. A Cardiac Arrest is when the heart actually suddenly stops beating.
One is a “circulation” problem. The other is an “electrical” fault.
A Heart Attack can lead to Cardiac Arrest. But a Cardiac Arrest does not lead to a Heart Attack.
A Heart Attack is often caused by a blockage to one of the main arteries leading to the heart. This blockage prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a vital part of the heart. Being simply a large muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen to do its job.
While Heart Attacks can occur suddenly and without warning, most will tend to come on slowly. The person can just start feeling “unwell” for several days or even weeks before the attack. Pains in the chest, neck, shoulders, even arms are common warning signs. This is a sign less and less oxygen is getting to that part of the heart and the muscle is already starting to die.
When a heart attack occurs, it’s important to get the patient to hospital quickly to unblock the artery to prevent serious long-term damage to the heart.
As a Cardiac Arrest is an “electrical fault” with the heart, a shock with a defibrillator is often used to reset the heart’s electrical system and get it going again.
In a Cardiac Arrest, the heart’s pumping rhythm is disrupted so the heart can’t pump blood to the brain, lungs and other vital organs. That’s why a person goes unconscious and has no pulse after a Cardiac Arrest, but with a Heart Attack their heart might still be pumping but only doing a partial job.
This is where knowing CPR is so vital. If you don’t have a defibrillator handy, the next best thing to treat a person who has had a Cardiac Arrest is to give them CPR while you wait for the ambulance.
With a Heart Attack the person could be writhing around in agony but still breathing and not unconscious. Get help urgently, call an Ambulance and render whatever First Aid you are trained in.
Now you know the difference between a Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest. But there’s one thing common to both. Fast action will save lives and often mean a speedier recovery in both cases.