Difference Between Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack

Difference Between Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack

In many instances, people often use the terms heart attack and cardiac arrest in a manner that suggests that they are completely interchangeable. However, to do so ignores the many differences between a heart attack and an instance of cardiac arrest. A heart attack and cardiac arrest are two different medical conditions and must be treated as such.

These ailments take place for varied reasons and the treatment options are also dissimilar. It is important for patients and their loved ones to know about these crucial differences before making any rash decisions.

Defining Events

A heart attack is defined as a blockage of the blood flow to the heart, while cardiac arrest is an instance where a person’s heart ceases its normal beating patterns unexpectedly and experiences a malfunction of extreme severity. When a heart attack takes place, it is considered to be a circulation related problem, whereas cardiac arrest is more of an electrical issue.

How Does This Happen?

In order to understand these differences, a person must know what each of these heart related malfunctions entails. When a heart attack occurs, a blocked artery is typically to blame. If a person’s artery becomes blocked, this prevents blood from reaching certain areas of the heart. Since this blood is rich in oxygen, a person’s breathing ability also becomes impaired.

What To Do

Unless the person who is experiencing the heart attack receives immediate medical attention and unblocks the artery, the area of the heart that requires nourishment that is delivered through that particular artery will begin to perish. Every moment that passes without receiving medical treatment only serves to worsen the overall impact of the heart attack.


The symptoms of a heart attack, in certain instances, can become immediately noticeable and quite intense. However, most heart attacks start very slowly and symptoms will build over the course of several days. The symptoms may even persist for weeks before the actual heart attack in some cases.

These symptoms include the onset of undue fatigue, chest pains, heart palpitations and labored breathing. Should a person experience any of these symptoms, they are urged to contact their nearest medical professional as soon as possible.

One of the most crucial differences between a heart attack and cardiac arrest is that heart’s continued beating during the onset of a heart attack. During cardiac arrest, a person’s heart will typically stop beating and they will require some form of resuscitation.

While heart attacks can take hours, days or even weeks for the symptoms to build, a cardiac arrest happens in a very sudden manner. A person may be performing any number of routine activities when they suddenly begin to experience cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrests occur in a sudden fashion, due to the fact that they can be triggered by a malfunction in the heart. These malfunctions are electrical in nature and cause the patient to develop an irregular heartbeat. This causes the heart’s pumping action to become disrupted. Once this happens, the blood flow to the brain is restricted.

In addition to low blood flow to the brain, a person’s blood flow to their lungs and other vital organs also becomes restricted. All it takes is a few seconds without proper blood flow to these areas before a person begins to lose consciousness. Their pulse becomes weakened and unless they receive medical attention, they will die.


Unfortunately for those who suffer from cardiac arrest, the most likely outcome is death, due to the short amount of time that a patient has to seek medical treatment. One of the most crucial differences between cardiac arrest and heart attack is the courses of treatment that are available to the patient.

A heart attack is also a serious, grave medical emergency, but there are far more options available, as it relates to treatment. Those who suffer from heart attacks can have the ailment repaired with a series of medications, a stent or angioplasty. Should the patient be able to restore their normal blood flow in a timely fashion, their heart will often experience minimal damage.

Cardiac arrest, on the other hand, tends to be more chaotic, providing less options than what is available to a heart attack sufferer. Treatment must commence immediately, in the form of CPR. This support the patient’s circulatory levels and once they have become stabilized, the medical staff will deliver a shock to the patient’s heart with a defibrillator.

The defibrillator is used to essentially reset the heart’s electrical signal, which in some instances will allow the heart to resume its normal beating. While these medical practices can help to save the victim’s life, time is of the essence. Unless these treatments are administered immediately, the patient is in danger of passing away.

Risk Factors

Patients who have experienced a heart attack in the past tend to be more susceptible to cardiac arrest, which is another major difference between the two heart related medical issues. Patients who have suffered from a heart attack in the past are encouraged to implant an cardiac defibrillator in their chest, which will serve as a means of automatic resuscitation.

Even though cardiac arrest and heart attacks are often considered to be one and the same, they are quite dissimilar. The nature of each ailment, the courses of treatment available, and the speed at which a patient must seek these treatments are vastly different. When it comes to cardiac arrest and heart attacks, it is best to collect as much information as possible, so that you can safeguard yourself and your loved ones.