Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack: Know the Difference

When someone either has a cardiac arrest or heart attack, it really doesnt make that much of a difference once they are lying unconscious on the ground. Either way the person needs CPR and medical attention almost immediately. But for the purpose of this article, what is the real difference between a Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack. Just as an FYI, we do discuss the difference between the two in our CPR courses.

In order to understand the difference between a Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack, we need first to know a little bit about the heart and how it works. I will try and explain this as simple as possible.

The heart is one large muscle the size of our fist in the center of our chest. It primary purpose is to pump de-oxygenated blood to our lungs where it gets oxygen and then pump the oxygenated blood to the rest of our body. If our heart stops then everything stops. In order for the muscle to pump the blood it needs two things. One, it needs blood. If a part of the heart cant get the blood it needs due to a blocked artery then the muscle will not be able to work properly. Two, the heart muscle needs to be stimulated with an electrical current. This electrical current is produced by cells in the heart itself. So the electrical impulse forces the heart to contract which then pumps the blood either to the lungs or to the body. I’m sure the medical gurus out there will be shocked by this very simple and basic description of what the heart is and how it works but its a simple and easy to understand explanation. Who cares if its completely accurate? Its not a 100% relevant to the point of this post.

So to sum it up the heart is a large muscle that pumps blood stimulated by a self creating electrical impulse. Both of these elements are needed for the heart to perform. See where this is going? If there is something wrong with the muscle or the electric impulse then there is a problem. So now that you know these two essential components you will be able to easily understand the difference between a Heart Attack and a Cardiac Arrest.

Cardiac Arrest

A cardiac arrest occurs when we have a problem with the electric impulse in the heart. We may refer to this as an electrical malfunction causing the heart to beat erratically. In other words, this is known as an electrical problem of the heart. The way to save someone suffering from a cardiac arrest is to use an AED. The faster we get an AED the better the chance of survival. Without and CPR, AED or other medical attention the victim will die within only a few minutes.

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when the heart stops beating due to a blocked artery. As mentioned before, the heart muscle needs blood to perform. If the artery is blocked the muscle cant perform. If the artery remains blocked for a long enough time the muscle dies. A person could suffer from a heart attack while they are conscious. They will start feeling heavy chest pains. These pains are from a heart that is suffering a lack of needed oxygen to perform properly. Treating someone suffering a heart attack requires calling 911 even while they are still conscious. Often its better to get medical help than trying to drive a person suffering a heart attack to the hospital.

Source: American Heart Association

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