Cardiac arrest vs heart attack: What’s the difference?

A cardiac arrest is different than a heart attack in the sense that a heart attack occurs due to a blockage in one of the arteries while a cardiac arrest is the result of abnormal heart rhythm. Not all heart attacks result in a cardiac arrest.

The terms “Heart attack” and “Cardiac arrest” are often used interchangeably. However, medically speaking, the two imply completely different heart conditions. Here’s a simple decoding of the two to help you understand why they are not synonymous.

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What is a cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrests can occur suddenly without any sort of warning. They are triggered by the electrical malfunctioning in the heart that causes the heart to beat irregularly. A cardiac arrest occurs because of rapid heartbeat called as Ventricular Tachycardia or Ventricular Fibrillation, but at times can be due to extreme slowing of heart rate, which ultimately leads to stopping of heartbeats, according to Dr Hasmukh Ravat, senior interventional cardiologist and HOD-cardiology, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.

When the pumping action of the heart is disrupted due to abnormal beating, it cannot pump blood to brain, lungs and other organs. The person becomes unconscious within a second to a minute, stops breathing and has no pulse and blood pressure. Death occurs within minutes if no treatment is received. However, cardiac arrest is reversible if proper and timely treatment is given.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when a patient’s arteries are blocked and they prevent the oxygen-rich blood from being transported to a certain section of the heart. If the blockage of the artery is not removed quickly, the part of the heart would start to die without the blood flow that nourishes it. A heart attack is mainly caused due to a coronary heart, disease, which is the deposition of fatty deposits building up in the coronary arteries.

Can a heart attack cause a cardiac arrest?

Not all heart attacks result in a cardiac arrest. Only in five to ten per cent cases, there are chances of a person getting a cardiac arrest after a heart attack, according to Dr Mukesh Goel, senior consultant, cardiologist, Indraprastha Apollo hospitals. This happens if during a heart attack, blood supply is cut off to a large portion of the heart and it stops beating.

How is a cardiac arrest caused?

Cardiac arrest can be due to heart-related cause’s i.e. Coronary Heart Disease, Heart Attack, Cardiomyopathy, valve problems and abnormal heart rhythm. But it can be unrelated to heart disease too as it might be caused by electrocution, drug overdose, severe haemorrhage, losing a large amount of blood, drowning etc.

What is the emergency treatment for a cardiac arrest?

If a sudden cardiac arrest happens, the patient is declared clinically dead, according to Dr Goel. He advises giving Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to the patient immediately in such a case. For the untrained, it means giving a hands-only CPR, which involves compressing the chest 100-120 times a minute until help arrives, as noted by the Mayo Clinic.

What is the emergency treatment for a heart attack?

Not all heart attacks are fatal. Dr Goel advises the patient to “Calm down and take a couple of aspirins or disprins and go to a hospital immediately.”


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