What’s the Difference Between A Heart Attack & Cardiac Arrest?

Your heart is one of the most vital organs in the body. And yet, most people know little about the conditions that impact the efficiency of this organ. Oftentimes two of the leading heart fatalities are confused for each other, causing panic in a crisis situation.  

Heart Attacks & Cardiac Arrest.

Two very different medical events, yet often used interchangeably. One is a plumbing issue within the heart, with damage or fatality caused by a blockage to majors parts of the heart. The other is electrical, resulting in a higher mortality rate because the heart stops beating.

October is National Sudden Cardiac Awareness Month, which is a great time to set both phrases straight. Learning about these two conditions could be the difference between life and death.

What is a Heart Attack?

A blockage in your heart’s plumbing.

Over 790,000 heart attacks occur in a year. That’s an overwhelming amount, accounting for one in four deaths among Americans annually.  It’s also the reason many have heard the term “heart attack”.

If you haven’t experienced one yourself, chances are you know a friend or family member who has. But, do we know what a heart attack really is?

A circulation problem in this vital organ, a heart attack is considered an internal plumbing issue. Blockage prevents a part of the heart muscle from receiving enough blood flow, causing damage to the heart. Subsequently, it prevents blood and oxygen from reaching the heart. 

When the blockage is not opened up, the damage can become serious. Symptoms can include:

  • Jaw or neck pain
  • Discomfort in the chest
  • Mild nausea
  • Severe anxiety.

These can last for weeks before the actual attack and it’s vital that the person is checked out before the damage becomes too severe.

So, what is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

An electrical malfunction of the heart.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating.  Presently, it’s the leading cause of death in the United States. And it can strike people of all ages, race, and gender, even children and teens. It affects over 350,000 lives every year — fewer than a heart attack, but the fatalities are greater because the victim’s heart actually stops beating.

Presently, it is the #1 killer of student-athletes and is the #2 medical cause of death among youth under 25.

5 Easy Ways You Can Help the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Crisis

During a cardiac arrest, a sudden electrical malfunction of the heart occurs. This creates an irregular beat to the heart. In just a few seconds, a victim collapses and becomes unresponsive. They may gasp or shake as if having a seizure.

Warning signs can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath.

There may be symptoms leading up to the event, or it can occur all on its own, hence it’s name “Sudden”.  All of these signs warrant a preventative heart screening known as an EEG or an EKG.

It is recommended that teens receive two preventative heart screenings during this high school years, spaced two years apart, to catch any heart abnormalities that could lead to SCA.

Because SCA leads to death in minutes if not immediately responded to, survival depends on bystanders calling 911, starting CPR, and using an AED (a device that delivers the needed shock to a victim’s heart) as soon as possible. Unlike a heart attack, which requires blockage to be cleared, a heart that has experienced a sudden arrest requires an electrical shock in order to be restarted.

Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack

When trying to remember the difference between these two heart conditions, just think plumbing (heart attack – blockage of blood flow) and electrical (sudden cardiac arrest – electrical malfunction).

Take steps during Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month to further educate yourself on this growing medical crisis. To learn more, check out parentheartwatch.org and check out their resource tab!

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