People often use these terms interchangeably, but they are not the same. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. A heart attack is a circulation problem, while cardiac arrest is an electrical problem.
Cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. With it’s pumping action distrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. A person suffering from cardiac arrest will become unresponsive, not breathing, or gasping for breath. Death occurs in minutes if the victim does not receive treatment.
Cardiac arrest can be reversible in some victims if it’s treated within a few minutes. Call 911 and start CPR right away. If an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is available, use it as soon as possible. If two people are available to help, one should begin CPR while the other calls 911 and finds an AED.
A heart attack is the direct result of a blocked artery, which prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the part of the heart normally nourished by that artery begins to die.
Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and may include intense discomfort in the chest or general upper body area, shortness of breath, cold sweats, and nausea/vomiting. Symptoms in women may differ from men, and include back or jaw pain. Frequently the symptoms start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before a heart attack. Unlike with cardiac arrest, the heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack. The longer the person goes without treatment, the greater the damage.
In the event of a heart attack, the best thing to do is call 911. Every minute matters, and getting to the emergency room right away is the best course of action. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment than those who go to the hospital by car.
While most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest, when cardiac arrest occurs a heart attack is a common cause.