What is the Difference between Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack?
People have a tendency to use the terms ‘cardiac arrest’ and ‘heart attack’ interchangeably. They are not the same thing. Misusing the two terms may be inconsequential during dinnertime conversations, but it can be fatal in the event of an emergency.
The goal of this post is to explain the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack. In so doing, the content will also touch on what communities can do to save lives. Needless to say that the right combination of expert guidance, top-rated UK defibrillators, and basic first aid training go a long way toward reducing preventable deaths related to heart attack and cardiac arrest.
Heart Attack: A Circulatory Issue
We will start with heart attack given that this is the term more commonly referenced. A heart attack is a circulatory issue. It is the result of a lack of blood flow to the heart. Like any other muscle in the body, the heart relies on adequate blood flow to supply the oxygen it needs.
If the heart is not getting enough oxygen, some of its tissue can begin to die. This is called ischemia. In layman’s terms, it’s also called a heart attack. Ischemia can cause the heart to stop suddenly, which is why it is sometimes confused with cardiac arrest. But ischemia doesn’t have to result in immediate heart stoppage. Sometimes it can lead to an equally dangerous condition known as arrhythmia.
Arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat that might be recognized by a patient as fluttering or racing. Sometimes what might be perceived as palpitations are actually the symptoms of arrhythmia. At any rate, arrhythmia can be either minor or serious depending on its cause and duration.
So, what causes the lack of blood flow that leads to ischemia? Lots of things. Here are just a few:
- Blood clots
- Plaque in the arteries
- Cardiovascular disease
- Breathing problems
- Certain kinds of illicit drugs.
One last thing to know about a heart attack is that there are degrees of severity. A minor heart attack could involve only minor ischemia that never creates another problem for as long as a person lives. Other heart attacks are serious enough to be fatal.
Cardiac Arrest: An Electrical Issue
Cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heart actually stops beating. Though medical science doesn’t quite understand all of the mechanics, we do know that the driving force that makes the heart beat are electrical signals received from the brain. During cardiac arrest, those electrical signals have been interrupted.
Arrhythmia is associated with cardiac arrest just as with ischemia. This is why arrhythmia can be dangerous during a heart attack. That said, arrhythmia on its own can lead to cardiac arrest. The irregular heartbeat that results from arrhythmia deprives the brain of blood and oxygen, thus leading to a complete loss of the electrical signals that pump the heart. Once that happens, the heart stops beating.
Note that where heart attacks can be rather mild, that is never the case with cardiac arrest. A heart that stops beating always constitutes an immediate emergency that can be fatal within minutes. That is why it is so important to treat cardiac arrest as soon as it is recognised.
Things Communities Can Do
Both heart attack and cardiac arrest are quite common in the Western world. Whether that’s due to poor diet, lack of exercise, or any other circumstances under our control, we want to focus on what communities can do about it.
The first step is to actively encourage first aid training among citizens. An effective first aid training class teaches students how to recognise the signs of both heart attack and cardiac arrest. This is critical in that you cannot respond to something you do not recognise. First aid training also teaches students how to administer emergency CPR.
CPR is an acronym that stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It is the most effective way to keep a stopped heart pumping while waiting for paramedics to arrive. CPR has saved countless lives in the decades since first aid instructors started teaching it to students.
In addition to encouraging first aid training, communities can also utilise some of their collective financial resources to install automated emergency defibrillators in public places. Also known as AEDs, these simple but effective devices give people the ability to offer the benefits of a defibrillator without having to be a medical professional.
Get Trained, Pay Attention
Cardiac arrest and heart attack are not the same things. One can lead to the other, but they are two distinct medical conditions with two distinct causes. The most important thing to know is that either one can be fatal. Therefore, it is important that we all do our part to prevent unnecessary deaths.
You can do your part by getting trained in emergency first aid and then paying attention to your surroundings. In the event of an emergency, your training and willingness to get involved could save a life. And who knows? Someone else’s training and willingness could save your life as well.