Aug 2023

Distinguishing the Beat: The Difference Between Sudden Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack

In the realm of heart health, two terms often arise that can confuse many: heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest. While they are both serious heart-related emergencies, they are not the same. Understanding the difference could potentially save a life, as the correct response hinges upon this knowledge. This blog post will delve into the differences between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest: A Rhythm Problem

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart's electrical system, which controls the heartbeat, malfunctions. This results in an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, causing the heart to suddenly stop beating altogether. When this happens, blood ceases to flow to the brain and other vital organs, leading to loss of consciousness within seconds. If not treated immediately with CPR and defibrillation, death can occur within minutes.

Heart Attack: A Circulation Problem

A heart attack, medically known as a myocardial infarction, is a circulation problem. It happens when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. This can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle, causing chest pain or discomfort. Unlike sudden cardiac arrest, during a heart attack, the heart usually does not stop beating. Symptoms can be immediate and intense, but more often, they start slowly and persist for hours, days, or weeks before a heart attack.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of both conditions is crucial. While a heart attack may involve chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness, symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest are immediate and drastic, including sudden collapse, no pulse, no breathing, and loss of consciousness.

How to Respond

Despite the differences between these two conditions, immediate response is essential for both. For heart attacks, call emergency services immediately, and get the person to the hospital as quickly as possible.

In the case of sudden cardiac arrest, begin Hands-Only CPR and use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) if one is available. Your immediate action can double or even triple a person's chance of survival.