What is the Difference Between Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack?

Most people use the terms “cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” interchangeably. However, while these two conditions can be related, they are not the same. Here is a deeper look at the differences between cardiac arrest and heart attack.

Difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest infographic

What is Cardiac Arrest?

Simply put, cardiac arrest refers to a sudden mechanical or electrical malfunction in the heart’s ability to beat properly. As a result, the heart is no longer able to pump blood throughout the body, leading to loss of consciousness and respiratory arrest. The most common cause of cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation – when the ventricles (the bottom parts of your heart) begin to beat erratically.

What is a Heart Attack?

The term “heart attack” refers to a blocked artery the prevents blood from entering the heart. Unlike cardiac arrest, a heart attack does not refer to a disruption in the heart’s ability to beat properly, but rather the ability for blood to flow through the heart.  A partial blockage can cause chest pain – one of the early warning signs of an impending heart attack. When an artery becomes completely blocked, blood can no longer reach a part of the heart, causing the muscle fibers to become deprived of oxygen and become permanently damaged if the blood flow is not restored. In addition, this damaged muscle can no longer pump blood, which deprives the rest of the body of oxygen and can sometimes lead to cardiac arrest.

How Are They Linked?

While cardiac arrest and heart attacks are different, there is often a link between the two since heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest. After a heart attack occurs, the damaged area of the heart may not be able to function as well as it did before, and can possibly cause an irregular heartbeat or lead to ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest.

There are many types of treatment for heart attack and cardiac arrest, including medication and heart surgery. In some cases, heart surgery may not initially be required, but may be recommended at a later time by a physician. If your physician has recommended heart surgery after a heart attack or cardiac arrest, contact Cardiovascular Surgery of Southern Nevada at (702) 737-3808 to schedule a consultation with a board certified heart surgeon today.

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