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Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

The terms heart attack and cardiac arrest are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Heart attack and cardiac arrest are two different conditions.

Heart Attack!

A heart attack (or myocardial infarction) is an issue with "circulation."

A heart attack happens when a part of the heart muscle does not receive sufficient blood owing to a clogged artery caused by atherosclerosis and dies as a result of oxygen deprivation, resulting in crushing chest discomfort.


Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate.

More often though, symptoms occur slowly and may persist for hours, days or weeks.

Common symptoms are:

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Cold sweat

Other symptoms may also include:

  • Heart palpitations

  • Giddiness

  • A choking sensation

  • Heartburn/indigestion

  • Nausea

Caregivers and family members of cardiac patients should also be on the lookout for the patient's rapid and total lack of responsiveness, as well as a cessation of signals of circulation, since these may also be warning indicators of a heart attack.

Heart attacks in diabetes people are typically quiet, with no accompanying chest discomfort.


The following factors may increase the risk of heart attacks.

  • Age and sex

  • Family history

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Diabetes

  • Physically inactive

  • Overweight or obese

  • Smoke

  • Excessive drinking

  • Medical history, such as

    • Coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease

    • Atrial fibrillation

    • Carotid artery disease

    • Transient Ischaemic Attack

    • Disease of leg arteries

    • A high red blood cell count

    • Sickle cell anaemia

    • A previous heart attack

What to do

Call 995 immediately!

Every second counts.

Call 995 EVEN if you're not sure if it's a heart attack.

It is advisable to get medical attention as soon as possible. Emergency medical care paramedics can begin treatment as soon as they arrive.

You should not drive yourself or the patient to the hospital since you lack the requisite lifesaving equipment and drugs.


Start by becoming aware of your risks, the personal characteristics and habits that may increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

Some you cannot change or control; some you can, by making a few changes in your habits or taking medicines as prescribed.


  1. Prevention of further blood clot formation with medication such as aspirin or other antiplatelet agents

  2. Pain relief with medication

  3. Re-opening of the blocked artery as soon as possible by either:

    • Infusion of drugs to dissolve the clot known as a fibrinolytic agent

    • Coronary angioplasty to restore blood flow

    • Further investigations to look for complications of the heart and to assess and reduce the risk of another heart attack

    • Long term medication and cardiac rehabilitation to control your risks and prevent a recurrence

Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrest is characterized as a "electrical problem."

Sudden cardiac arrest happens when the heart suddenly stops beating or malfunctions.

An electrical failure in the heart generates an erratic heartbeat, which leads a cardiac arrest (arrhythmia).

When the heart's pumping function is disturbed, it is unable to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs.

This can result in death in minutes.


Sudden cardiac arrest can be preceded by the classic symptoms of a heart attack, which then rapidly progress into:

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Fits (convulsion)

  • Gasping

  • No breathing


Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease is responsible for approximately 80% of all sudden cardiac arrests (CHD).

Because CHD is a disorder that worsens with age, sudden cardiac arrest is more frequent in older people.

When more coronary arteries are damaged and the major trunk of the left coronary artery is clogged (often referred to as "widow maker's disease"), sudden cardiac arrest is more likely to occur.

The risk of sudden cardiac arrest is also increased in those who have previously experienced a heart attack that resulted in significant heart muscle damage and heart failure.

Because CHD is the most prevalent underlying cause of sudden cardiac arrest, the risk factors would be those that contribute to atherosclerosis, the disease process that causes CHD. Age, smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and family history are all factors to consider.


In younger patients in whom CHD is less frequent, other causes arising from genetics may be present. These conditions include:

  • Abnormalities of the heart’s electrical system e.g. the “long QT interval syndromes”

  • Brugada syndrome

  • Abnormalities of the heart muscle e.g. hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

  • Various forms of congenital heart disease (“hole-in-the-heart”, “blue babies”)

  • Various heart valve disease


The risk of sudden cardiac arrest can be lowered by reducing the risk of CHD.

  • Screening and effective control of the causes of CHD e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.

  • Various tests can be performed on patients with known CHD to identify those at increased risk of heart attack and cardiac arrest. ECG, exercise or other forms of stress testing, echocardiography, imaging techniques such as CT scans, isotope scans, coronary angiography, ECG Holter Monitoring, and electrophysiologic studies are examples of these tests.

  • Those at increased risk may be treated with medications, angioplasty, pacemakers or implantable defibrillators.

A doctor may check younger people with a family history of sudden cardiac arrest or other forms of heart illness and send them if there are suggestive indicators, such as an irregular ECG.

Individuals who intend to engage in rigorous activity should have a medical evaluation, which should include an ECG, a stress test (such as a treadmill test), and other forms of heart assessment.


Cardiac arrest can be reversible in some victims if it is treated within a few minutes.

  • Call 995 for an ambulance and perform CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) right away.

  • If an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) is available, use it as soon as possible.

If two people are available to help, one should begin CPR immediately while the other calls 995 and finds an AED.

Resuscitation of a cardiac arrest casualty should be initiated within 4 minutes, as any delay beyond this period may result in permanent brain and cardiac damage.

What’s the Difference?

Sudden cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack.

A heart attack happens when blood supply to the heart is interrupted, causing portions of the heart muscle to die.

The majority of heart attacks do not result in cardiac arrest.

A heart attack, on the other hand, is a common cause of cardiac arrest. Other disorders can also cause the heart's rhythm to be disrupted and result in a cardiac arrest.

Unlike with a cardiac arrest, the heart does not normally cease beating during a heart attack.

When the heart stops pumping blood around the body and the person ceases breathing, this is known as sudden cardiac arrest.

It is one of the consequences of a heart attack. In fact, almost half of all heart attack victims have abrupt cardiac arrest.

The initial cause of sudden cardiac arrest is frequently the onset of an irregular heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation (VF), or, less frequently, asystole (heart stops contracting).

VF is characterized by chaotic electrical activity without mechanical contraction, resulting in a sudden stoppage of blood circulation. VF can be preceded by ventricular tachycardia (VT), which is characterized by a high heart rate, for example, 200 beats per minute, but very low blood pressure.

When the heart's pumping activity is disturbed, blood cannot be pumped to the brain, lungs, or other organs. A person loses consciousness and quits breathing seconds later (or gasps for air). If the person is not treated quickly, death happens within minutes.


In both scenarios, fast action save lives. Choose a heart-healthy lifestyle to prevent the onslaught of a heart attack and cardiac arrest and equip yourself with CPR+AED skills to help save lives.

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