Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. An easy way to remember the difference is to think of cardiac arrest as an “electrical” problem and heart attack as a “circulation” problem.
Because the heart’s pumping action is disrupted during cardiac arrest, it cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. Seconds after a cardiac arrest, the person will stop breathing or will gasp for air, and within minutes death will occur if the person does not receive immediate treatment. For adults and teens, Hands-Only CPR should be administered immediately after calling 911. If an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is available, it should be used as soon as possible. For a child or infant, cardiac arrest is likely due to a respiratory issue. Giving CPR with compressions and breaths is the most effective method. This is also true for drug overdose and drowning victims.
With a heart attack, a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. If the artery is not opened quickly, that part of the heart muscle begins to die. Knowing the warning signs of heart attack is critical, as well as calling 911. Symptoms may include chest discomfort, shortness of breath, cold sweats and/or nausea. The heart attack symptoms in women can be different than men (shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain). Symptoms may be sudden and intense, or they may start slowly and persist for hours, days or even longer.
For more information on the differences between heart attacks and cardiac arrests, click here.