Very often, we use the terms cardiac arrest and heart attack synonymously. But, in fact, they are two very different heart problems. Let’s look at what each one of the two conditions is so as to understand the difference between the two.

What is a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest occurs without any warning. In a cardiac arrest, there is an unexpected stop of the functions of the heart. The heart stops beating. It is characterized by:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Loss of pulse and
  • No breathing

A cardiac arrest is triggered by a problem with the heart’s electrical system that controls the rate of the heartbeat.

At times, there are a few warning signs before an oncoming cardiac arrest

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting or blackouts
  • Palpitations
  • Vomiting

If the victim of a cardiac arrest is not given immediate medical attention, he might die within a few minutes.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack or a myocardial infarction occurs when the muscles of the heart do not get oxygen-rich blood supply. It usually occurs when the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart become clogged due to the formation of plaque- mostly fats, calcium and protein. The arteries thus become narrow and interrupt the flow of blood to a part or parts of the heart. This can cause permanent damage to the muscles of the heart.

Immediate medical treatment is required to reduce damage to the heart. Symptoms of a heart attack may be unexpected and drastic or they may start slowly and even last for days and weeks. Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Irregular heart beats
  • Sweating and nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or heaviness in the chest and arms

Accordingly, it can be concluded that the two heart conditions- Heart attack and cardiac arrest are different. While a cardiac arrest occurs due to the malfunctioning of the heart’s electrical system, a heart attack is a circulation problem due to clogged arteries where the muscles of the heart begin to die due to the lack of blood and oxygen.

Despite the dissimilarity between the two diseases, they are in a way related. Heart attacks increase the risk of a cardiac arrest. This is because a person having a heart attack may have irregular heartbeats which can lead to a cardiac arrest.

In both cases, immediate medical attention is of paramount importance.