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Healthy Living Blog

The Difference Between a Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest


difference between heart attack and cardiac arrestImagine you’re getting on the exit ramp, only to see that the highway is at a standstill and you are unable to get to work.

Now imagine you haven’t even left your house yet. You get in the car, try to start your engine and nothing happens. Your car won’t turn on and again, you are unable to get to work. You get out your jumper cables and call a friend.

While the backed-up highway traffic did not lead to your engine not working, the prolonged period of trying to get your car back up and running can lead you to encounter some traffic, among other conditions.

This is the primary difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. And while most heart attacks don’t necessarily lead to cardiac arrest, a heart attack is a common cause of cardiac arrest.

Heart Attack: A Circulation Problem

Like the scenario of backed-up traffic, your heart contains arteries, and blood circulates through them delivering oxygen to the heart. When these arteries become clogged and oxygen-rich blood cannot get through, a heart attack can happen.

Just as your car won’t stop running even though you’re caught in traffic, the heart does not stop beating during a heart attack. The blocked artery must be reopened for blood to pump through. If it is not, the heart muscle fed by that artery begins to die.

There are warning signs and symptoms that can alert you to a heart attack. While these symptoms can present themselves differently in women than in men, it’s important to pay attention to any irregular chest discomfort or difficulty breathing, regardless of gender. The most common symptoms of a heart attack in women include:

  • Chest pain, such as a squeezing or fullness feeling
  • Pain in the arms, back, neck or jaw
  • Stomach pain that can sometimes be mistaken for heartburn
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue

Men tend to mainly feel chest pain, pressure or discomfort, but everyone experiences symptoms differently. It’s important to get to a hospital right away if you experience these types of symptoms for prolonged periods of time and they become increasingly painful.

Cardiac Arrest: An Electrical Problem

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating altogether, often unexpectedly. It is triggered by an electrical malfunction of the heart. Without blood being delivered to the heart, lungs and brain, death will occur within minutes.

What to Do

While cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death, it can be reversible if treated quickly. In both situations, time is of the essence, but particularly if there is no pulse, as with cardiac arrest. If you find someone without a pulse, the first thing to do is call 911, then start administering CPR to the victim. If there is an automated external defibrillator (AED) available, use it immediately. This may send an electric shock to the heart in an attempt to restore a normal rhythm.

If you or a loved one feel they are experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack, seek emergency medical attention right away. Don’t wait — every second counts.

While cardiac arrest is likely unpreventable, living a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of heart attack. Here are some creative ways to stay heart-healthy and live a long, prosperous life.

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