What's the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest? Aren't they the same thing?
If you're like most people, you may use the terms interchangeably. But heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest are two very different things. A heart attack is a "plumbing problem,” happening when one or more arteries becomes blocked and prevents blood from reaching part of the heart. Sudden cardiac arrest is an "electrical problem," occurring when part of the heart's electrical circuitry malfunctions and the heart goes out of rhythm, then stops beating.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest
The healthy heart pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body to keep the brain and all other vital organs alive and working. The electrical malfunction in sudden cardiac arrest causes the heart to suddenly stop beating, thus preventing blood from getting pumped to the rest of the body. In just a few seconds, someone in sudden cardiac arrest loses consciousness and has no pulse. Death happens within minutes if no treatment is given. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in adults over 40, impacting almost 350,000 Americans each year.
Heart Attack Basics
A heart attack, also called myocardial infarction (MI) occurs when one or more arteries to the heart become blocked and blood can't get through. The heart is a muscle, and the longer it's deprived of blood, the more damage is done to that muscle tissue. Heart attacks generally happen due to a gradual build-up of plaque (fat, cholesterol and other substances) in the arteries which causes them to narrow and eventually become blocked. The AHA says someone in the U.S. has a heart attack about every 40 seconds. Although it's different than sudden cardiac arrest, a heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical misfire that leads to sudden cardiac arrest.
There are two different kinds of heart attacks:
- ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) – the left main artery to the heart is totally blocked. Time is critical in STEMI situations, with this "sudden heart attack" sometimes referred to as the "widowmaker."
- Non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) – an artery is partially or temporarily blocked. Although serious, NSTEMI is not as time-critical as STEMI.
Are the symptoms for a heart attack and cardiac arrest the same?
The symptoms for heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest are different. Sudden cardiac arrest is immediate -- the heart stops beating, the person loses consciousness and has no pulse. Death can occur within two minutes. Heart attack symptoms can be sudden, but often there are warning signs that occur over a period of hours, days or even weeks, giving a person time to get medical help. The most common heart attack symptom in men and women is chest pain, but not everyone who has a heart attack experiences chest pain. Other signs of a heart attack can include:
- Pain in the back, jaw, and other areas of the upper body (The pain might go away and come back)
- Shortness of breath
- Anxiety or a sense of dread
- A cough
- Dizziness or light-headedness
In instances of either heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest, your fast action and two simple steps could save someone's life.
How to Save a Life in Just Two Steps
- Call 9-1-1
- Immediately begin hands-only CPR -- pushing hard and fast in the center of the chest 100 to 120 beats per minute, and continue until help arrives.
No CPR Training? No Problem.
CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival. It forces blood to continue pumping to the vital organs, and prevents it from pooling in the heart. Hands-only CPR (without mouth-to-mouth resuscitation) requires no special training, is very simple to do and is as effective as CPR with breaths in cardiac arrest situations.
Please Don't Stop the Music!
If you're a disco aficionado, there are any number of reasons to love the Bee Gees, but here’s one more. The group 's hit song "Stayin' Alive" has a tempo of just over 100 beats a minute, a near-perfect match for the rate for performing hands-only CPR.
Hate disco? No worries, “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira” or “Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash all have rhythms matching 100-120 beats per minute. The fact is, people feel more comfortable and confident performing hands-only CPR and are more likely to remember the correct speed of presses when it's taught to the beat of a familiar song.
What is the difference between hands-only CPR and regular CPR?
Hands-only chest compression CPR:
- Can be performed without any training
- Pushes remaining oxygen throughout the body to keep vital organs alive until trained help comes
- Is recommended on adults or teens who suddenly collapse
CPR with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (breaths):
- Is learned through online or in-person training
- Combines chest compression and mouth-to-mouth, which pushes additional oxygen throughout the body
- Can be used on teens and adults, and is recommended for infants and children, victims of drowning or drug overdose, or someone who has collapsed due to breathing problems
Emergency Heart Care in Kansas City
If a loved one is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or cardiac arrest, don’t drive. Call 911 so life-saving care can begin on the way to the hospital.
With 11 emergency rooms and the largest network of accredited chest pain centers in the Kansas City area, quality and timely heart care is always nearby.