The Difference Between a Heart Attack a Cardiac Arrest

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when a coronary artery on the surface of your heart that supplies blood to your heart muscle becomes blocked. This stops the blood flow to that part of the heart muscle and if it is not unblocked quickly, that part becomes damaged and begins to die.

The heart continues to beat.

Symptoms of a heart attack may include chest pain, unusual fatigue, weakness, nausea, cold sweats or shortness of breath. These symptoms can come on suddenly or may start slowly and persist for hours. Heart attack symptoms in women can be quite vague and are often missed.

What is a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart beats fast and wildly or stops beating altogether. This can happen due to an abrupt disturbance in the heart’s internal electrical system that normally regulates the heart beat. The heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other vital organs and without treatment, the outcome is usually fatal.

Usually, there are no early warning signs. Within seconds the person collapses, is not breathing or may be only gasping. This can occur in a person with or without heart disease and may occur after a heart attack.


How To Tell the Difference

Although a heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest they are very different emergencies.

With a heart attack, the person usually has a pulse, is breathing and can respond to questions.

With cardiac arrest the person has no pulse, is not breathing and is unresponsive.

What To Do:          Call 999 or 112

In a heart attack, even if you are not sure the person is having a heart attack every minute can matter. Keep the person comfortable and stay with them until help arrives.

Cardiac arrest can be reversible if it is treated rapidly. After calling 999 start CPR. If an automated defibrillator (AED) is available use it as soon as possible.


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