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Heart Attack or Cardiac Arrest? Know the Difference!

Last Updated: October 17, 2019

Heart Attack or Cardiac Arrest? Know the Difference!

People often mistake a heart attack for cardiac arrest or vice versa. It is extremely important to know the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. This will allow an individual to be able to spot the different symptoms and act quickly. Even though the two terms are not interchangeable, there is a similar link. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that ”most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest, but when cardiac arrest occurs, heart attack is a common cause.”

Cardiac arrest is an electrical error in the heart which causes the heart to malfunction and suddenly stop beating. The irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, caused by the electrical malfunction in the heart, disrupts the blood flow to vital organs such as the brain and lungs. A heart attack on the other hand is a circulation issue. It occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. When there is a blocked artery, oxygen-rich blood cannot deliver oxygen to the heart and that section of the heart begins to die.

Surprisingly, heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America! Knowing the symptoms and how to take action can help save a life. According to the AHA, 88 percent of cardiac arrests happen at home. The odds of that person being someone you know is extremely likely. Be familiar with the different symptoms and ways you can take action if you see or think someone is having a heart attack or cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of Heart Attack:

  • Chest pain or discomfort– It can often feel like pressure (almost like an elephant is sitting on your chest), squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body– This can include pain in one or both arms, shoulder, back, neck or jaw.
  • Shortness of breath and/or dizziness
  • Nausea/ Vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue

Actions to take:

  • Call 911 immediately
  • If the individual is able to sit up and swallow, have them take an aspirin.

Symptoms of Cardiac Arrest:

  • Sudden collapse
  • No pulse
  • Not breathing or gasping for air
  • Not responsive or loss of consciousness

Actions to take:

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Have someone retrieve the closest AED device
  • Start CPR right away (push hard and fast on the center of the chest)

Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack Inforgraphic