How to differentiate cardiac arrest from heart attack


Cardiovascular emergencies that pose a risk to life include heart attacks and cardiac arrest.
A life can be saved by identifying the signs of each and understanding what to do.

Would you be relieved or more concerned if a doctor informed you that your loved one had just had a heart attack rather than a cardiac arrest? Would you be familiar with the distinction between the two terms?

Everyone can get confused by medical terminology, but in this instance, there are significant distinctions between these two cardiac episodes.

Problems in the body’s circulatory system that obstruct blood flow to the heart are what cause a heart attack.
Coronary artery disease is the primary cause of heart attacks.
Your risk may rise as a result of your age, lifestyle choices including diet and exercise, and other health issues.
Heart attacks are frequent in the US.

The electrical system of the heart breaks down during a cardiac arrest. Usually, arrhythmias that mess with the heart’s rhythm and electrical system are to blame. A cardiac arrest happens when the heart’s rhythm ceases.

The symptoms, causes, and therapies of these two illnesses, as well as the prognoses for those who have them, are contrasted in this article.

Difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest

A heart attack, which is often referred to as a myocardial infarction, happens when blood that normally flows to the heart is blocked or cut off. Without enough oxygen-rich blood flowing to the heart, it can cause damage to one of the most important organs in the body, and the heart muscle can begin to die.

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A cardiac arrest, on the other hand, is known as sudden cardiac death. The word “arrest” means to stop or bring to a halt. In the case of cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating, which is an extremely serious health issue. Cardiac arrest can cause near-immediate death or disability.

How do symptoms of a heart attack and cardiac arrest compare?

A heart attack and cardiac arrest are both life threatening medical emergencies. It’s helpful to know the symptoms of each.

Symptoms of heart attack

Heart attacks often begin with sudden chest pain, but they can also start slowly with mild pain that comes and goes over several hours. Symptoms of a heart attack can vary, and if you’ve had one heart attack, your symptoms may be different if you experience another one.

Symptoms can also vary between males and females, but for both sexes, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. However, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience other symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Symptoms of cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrests can often happen to people who didn’t know they had a heart problem. A person experiencing cardiac arrest may collapse and lose consciousness. They may stop breathing or experience difficulty breathing.

Symptom comparison table

The table below lists common symptoms for heart attacks and cardiac arrests.

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Symptoms of heart attack Symptoms of cardiac arrest
Symptoms can increase over time (but not always).
Chest pain is the most common symptom.
Symptoms can increase over time (but not always).
chest pain, heaviness, or discomfort in the center or left side of the chest dizziness
pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or above the belly button shortness of breath
shortness of breath when resting or doing a little bit of physical activity (this is more common in older adults) fatigue or weakness
heavy sweating for no reason nausea and vomiting
feeling unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days (more common in women) heart palpitations or chest pain
nausea and vomiting no pulse
lightheadedness or sudden dizziness not breathing or difficulty breathing
rapid or irregular heart rate loss of consciousness

What are the causes and risk factors for a heart attack vs. cardiac arrest?

The causes and risk factors for heart attacks and cardiac arrests are quite different. Many people who experience a heart attack knew they were at risk. Cardiac arrests, on the other hand, often happen to people who didn’t know they had a heart problem and were unaware of any risks.

Causes of heart attacks

Heart attacks are usually caused by coronary heart disease, which starves your heart of oxygen. Most of the time, people know they’re at risk of a heart attack because they’re being treated for heart disease.

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Risk factors for a heart attack can include:

  • an unhealthy diet
  • lack of exercise
  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • high blood sugar (or diabetes)
  • having overweight

Causes of cardiac arrests

Certain heart conditions and health factors can increase your risk of cardiac arrest, including coronary heart disease. Other factors that aren’t always known could also put you at risk such as:

  • an enlarged heart
  • irregularly shaped heart valves
  • congenital (hereditary) disease
  • electrical impulse problems
  • smoking
  • family history of heart disease
  • a previous heart attack
  • substance misuse
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