Heart Attack vs. Cardiac Arrest

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The terms heart attack and cardiac arrest are frequently used as synonyms, but they are unique conditions that should be understood distinctly. 

Heart Attack
A heart attack occurs when an artery is blocked, preventing blood from flowing to the heart. The longer a person goes without treatment, the more likely that person is to develop dangerous complications.

A variety of symptoms may indicate an oncoming heart attack:

  • Chest pain or upper body pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Sweating, nausea or vomiting

Sometimes, the symptoms of a heart attack are sudden and intense. Other times, symptoms can start slowly and last days or weeks before the heart attack occurs. In some cases, a heart attack can increase your risk of going into cardiac arrest.

There are a number of risk factors for heart attack:
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age (45 or older for men, 55 or older for women)
  • Smoking 
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure. 
  • High cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • Diabetes
  • Stress

Cardiac Arrest 
Cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death in the United States, occurs when there is an electrical malfunction that suddenly causes the heart to stop beating. Once a person’s heartbeat has stopped, pulse and blood flow cease, and the person loses consciousness. Immediate treatment is necessary to save someone undergoing cardiac arrest. 

Many of the risk factors are the same for heart attacks and cardiac arrest. While heart attacks do not automatically lead to cardiac arrest, they can increase the risk and are often determined to be the root cause. Cardiac arrest can also result from congenital heart diseases and conditions that alter the heart’s rhythm, such as cardiomyopathy or arrhythmias. It is important to screen for these disorders to decrease the risk of cardiac arrest or other serious effects of heart disease. 
If you think someone is having a heart attack or cardiac arrest, call 911 immediately.