Updated: Oct 22
Cardiac arrest and heart attack are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two different medical emergencies that require different types of treatment. Here is a breakdown of the key differences between the two conditions:
Cause: Cardiac arrest is caused by a malfunction in the heart's electrical system, which leads to an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and ultimately causes the heart to stop beating. A heart attack, on the other hand, is caused by a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle. This blockage can be caused by a buildup of plaque (a substance made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances) or a blood clot.
Symptoms: Cardiac arrest often occurs without warning and is characterized by a sudden loss of consciousness and the absence of a pulse. A heart attack, on the other hand, is typically characterized by chest pain or discomfort that may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, or back. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, nausea, and lightheadedness.
Treatment: Cardiac arrest requires immediate treatment with CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and defibrillation, which is the use of an electric shock to restart the heart's normal rhythm. A heart attack, on the other hand, may be treated with medications to dissolve the blood clot or open the blocked artery, or with procedures such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery. In case someone is having a possible heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately, sit the person down, grab an AED if available and administer a low dose baby aspirin if they're not allergic.
Outcome: The outcome of cardiac arrest can be very serious, as it can lead to brain damage or death if not treated promptly. The outcome of a heart attack depends on the severity of the blockage and the timely availability of treatment. In some cases, a heart attack may cause permanent damage to the heart muscle, but with proper treatment and lifestyle changes, the prognosis can be good.
It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of both cardiac arrest and heart attack and seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing either of these conditions. Knowing the difference between the two can help you take the necessary steps to save a life or seek the appropriate treatment.