A lot of people view heart attack and cardiac arrest as the same thing. The confusion makes sense as they both deal with the heart, however, there are key differences between the two conditions, and it is important to understand which is which.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack happens when an artery gets blocked and prevents oxygen-rich blood from getting to a certain section of the heart. The section that is meant to get nourishment from that artery will start to die if the blockage is not dealt with on time. More damage will occur the longer that the damage remains untreated.
The symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and intense, but more often than not, the symptoms will start slowly and last for hours, days, or weeks leading up to a heart attack. Unlike cardiac arrest, the heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack.
What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest occurs suddenly, and most of the time, without warning. It is caused by a malfunction in the heart that creates an arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. Since its pumping action is disrupted, the heart is no longer able to pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs. In just a few seconds, the person would lose consciousness and no longer have a pulse. If the person does not get treatment in a fast enough time, they could be dead in a matter of minutes.
As previously mentioned, some heart attacks may be sudden and intense; however, most start slowly with mild pain and discomfort. You know your body, so if you experience any of the following symptoms, call 911.
- Chest discomfort. The pain originates in the center of the chest and lasts longer than few minutes. It may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms may include pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. This can happen with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs. Other symptoms can include breaking out in cold sweats, nausea, or lightheadedness.
Immediate and drastic signs of cardiac arrest include:
- Sudden collapse
- No pulse
- No breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Other signs of symptoms before cardiac arrest can include:
- Chest discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart (palpitations)
The two heart conditions have quite a few differences, but they are linked. Cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack, or during recovery. Heart attacks can increase the chance of cardiac arrest. Most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest; however, if cardiac arrest occurs, a heart attack is likely the cause. Other heart conditions happen to also disrupt the rhythm of the heart and can lead to cardiac arrest. These conditions include a thickened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), heart failure, arrhythmias, ventricular fibrillation, and long Q-T syndrome.
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