Cardiac arrest and heart attack: Know the difference, symptoms and how they are linked!

In order to understand the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest, it is first necessary to understand what happens in both of these processes.

Cardiac arrest and heart attack: Know the difference, symptoms and how they are linked!
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New Delhi: Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening, just hours after her political party AIADMK declared her to be 'fully recovered'. She was rushed to the Critical Care Unit (CCU) once again, where she is currently undergoing treatment and has been put on heart assist device.

Cardiac arrest and heart attack are two terms that are often confused and mistaken as being the same.

They are, in fact, two different conditions of the heart, which have varying symptoms, however, both can be fatal if not treated on time.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage of the coronary arteries. This is often caused by a blood clot. Such a blockage, if not quickly resolved, can cause parts of heart muscle to die.

What is a cardiac arrest?

Unlike a heart attack, the heart actually stops beating wholly if the person suffers a cardiac arrest; whereas in a heart attack the heart normally continues to beat even though the blood supply to the heart is disrupted.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain – this is likened to a feeling of tightness in the center of the chest which may last for several minutes and will not decrease upon resting. This symptom is one of the most common symptoms, however, not all people experience it if suffering from a heart attack.
  • Spreading of chest pain to other areas, most commonly to the arms, jaw, neck, back and abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Anxiety
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations (noticeable heartbeats)

Symptoms of a cardiac arrest are:

  • Sudden loss of consciousness/responsiveness
  • No breathing
  • No pulse

The lack of pulse is caused by the heart actually stopping during a cardiac arrest. As a result, the organs of the body are deprived of blood, which can lead to sudden death.

A cardiac arrest and a heart attack are, however, linked, since a heart attack can cause a cardiac arrest. But a cardiac arrest cannot cause a heart attack.

This means that if there's a cut-off in the blood supply to a part of the heart muscle, which happens in a heart attack, it could cause the heart to stop beating and in turn cause a cardiac arrest.

Other heart conditions may also disrupt the heart’s rhythm and lead to sudden cardiac arrest. These include a thickened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), heart failure, arrhythmias, particularly ventricular fibrillation, and long Q-T syndrome.

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