Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack


Whoa! You nearly gave me a Cardiac Arrest! (Doesn’t sound as good as a Heart Attack!)

Not many jokes today. This makes me a bit angry. It’s even probably above people writing loose instead of lose or your instead of you’re. It’s really annoying. Isla has never had a heart attack. She doesn’t have a problem with her coronary arteries or blood circulation to her heart. She has a malfunctioning sodium ion channel which likes to have 2 goes. It’s very naughty.

The number of things I have read recently where cardiac arrest and heart attack have been substituted for each other is staggering. Journalists are notoriously bad for it. Even in the cardiac world, I’ve read 3 posts in the last week where someone who has had a cardiac arrest has said they had a heart attack; don’t get me wrong, a heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest, they’re slightly linked. A heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical disturbance that leads to a cardiac arrest. A heart attack can leave behind areas of scar tissue; The electrical short circuits around the scar tissue can lead to abnormalities in the heart rhythm. However, that wasn’t the case in any of the posts I read. They were just plain wrong.

The main difference between the 2 is that one is a circulation problem and the other is an electrical problem.

A heart attack is a circulation problem and occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. The blockage is most often a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart (coronary arteries). The plaque eventually breaks away and forms a clot. This prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. If the artery is not re-opened quickly, the part of the heart that is deprived of blood will begin to die. That is why a person’s health and life-style choices can be a huge factor in heart attacks. A heart attack is likely to cause chest pain (which can spread to the arms, jaw, neck, among other places), cause coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and will result in permanent damage to the heart. The person remains conscious, is still breathing and has a pulse.

A cardiac arrest can happen to absolutely anyone – fat, thin, small, tall, young or old. A cardiac arrest is often called a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Sudden cardiac arrest often occurs with no warning, the clue is in the word ‘Sudden’. However, sneaky signs and symptoms may precede it including: fainting, blackouts, dizziness and palpitations.
A cardiac arrest is when your heart suddenly stops pumping blood round your body, commonly because of a problem with electrical signals in your heart.
The most common cause of cardiac arrest is an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation — when rapid, erratic electrical impulses cause your ventricles to quiver (fibrillate) uselessly instead of pumping blood. When your heart stops pumping blood, your brain is starved of oxygen, causing you to fall unconscious and stop breathing. There is no pulse.

Both are serious medical emergencies and need rapid intervention.

With a SCA you should call the emergency services and start CPR immediately. If you don’t know CPR, learn it. If you don’t know it, you’ve probably seen it on tv. Pump the chest to ‘staying alive’, even if you’re crap at it, it’s better than doing nothing. Wildly beat their chest like an angry gorilla, you might get lucky and save a life. If an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is available, use it as soon as possible. For every minute that passes without defibrillation chances of survival decrease by 7-10%. Modern AEDs are fully automatic, meaning that 1 tooth Trevor from Jezza Kyle, who slept with his sister/mother/auntie can follow the instructions on screen and successfully administer a life saving shock on the victim. The AED will not shock, however, if the victim does not require it. Clever huh?


If you suspect someone is having a heart attack, even if you’re not 100% that someone is having a heart attack, it is a good idea to call the emergency services and stay with the person until paramedics arrive. Every seven minutes someone dies of a heart attack in the UK. There’s not a great deal you can do to be honest; have a chat about your favourite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (Rafael), who would make a better PM, Chuck Norris or Norris Cole, the pros and cons of fingerless gloves… whatever comes to mind. If you have aspirin handy the emergency services operator may tell you to take some as they reduce clotting and help blood flow through narrow arteries. Otherwise you’re simply in a waiting game for the paramedics so it’s important to act quickly.


So there you go, no excuses:
Heart attack – blockage. Heart still beats, person still conscious. Stay calm, get help. Defib won’t help.
Cardiac Arrest – electrical. Heart stopped, no pulse, person unconscious. CPR, get help and Defibrillator.