Cardiac arrest or heart attack?
While the terms cardiac arrest and heart attack may seem interchangeable, the causes of each are very different. A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions; a heart attack occurs because there is a problem or blockage in the circulatory system.
When the heart's electrical system malfunctions, the heart stops beating and sudden cardiac arrest occurs. When the heart stops pumping, it is not able to send blood to the vital organs such as the brain and the lungs. As a result, a person who is experiencing cardiac arrest might be gasping for air or not breathing at all.
According to the American Heart Association, about 360,000 cardiac arrests occur in the U.S. annually and they can happen to anyone, even athletes.
Cardiac arrest can be reversed, but it takes the fast actions of people nearby who know what to do. People who experience cardiac arrest need to have life-saving treatment in the first 10 minutes or they may not survive. To treat a victim of cardiac arrest:
- Call 911
- Start CPR
- Use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) as soon as possible.
- If two people are available to help, one person should start CPR (chest compressions) while the other person calls 911 and looks for an AED.
Heart attack, also known as myocardial (heart muscle) infarction (death), occurs when there is a clot or narrowing of the cardiovascular system that prevents blood and oxygen from getting to the heart muscle.
If these arteries are blocked, the heart usually keeps beating, but the blockage deprives the heart of oxygen. As a result, the heart muscle around the blocked blood vessel starts to die. This is when the victim starts to feel pain and experiences heart attack symptoms such as discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and cold sweats.
Women might experience different symptoms such as back or jaw pain. Unlike cases of cardiac arrest, the symptoms associated with heart attacks may start slowly and appear hours, days or even weeks before the attack occurs.
As with cardiac arrest, the likelihood that the person will recover increases when the response time decreases.
If you are near someone who is having a heart attack, it is important to take action.
- Call 911 as soon as symptoms begin, even if you are not absolutely sure it is a heart attack.
- If emergency medical services (EMS) personnel cannot be reached, only then should you drive a person who is experiencing heart attack to the hospital. Heart attacks can be treated up to an hour sooner when EMS professionals are involved and have a fully equipped ambulance; this can mean the difference between death, life and the quality of life.
- If the patient stops breathing, begin artificial respiration by breathing into their lungs. If the heart also stops, begin CPR
While not all heart attacks cause cardiac arrest, and not all cardiac arrests cause myocardial infarction, what is certain is that left untreated, sudden cardiac arrest will cause death within 10 minutes.
It's important to know what steps to take to save a life. Get CPR certified so that you are prepared if someone around you is experiencing cardiac arrest or a heart attack.