What is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?
A cardiac arrest and a heart attack both affect the heart. Many people believe these serious conditions are the same but in fact they’re not – they’re totally different medical emergencies. In this blog post we explain the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack.
A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating and the person stops breathing. They are clinically dead and unresponsive.
A cardiac arrest can occur for many reasons including medical conditions and traumatic injuries.
A cardiac arrest patient requires cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). CPR involves chest compressions and rescue breaths to keep that person ‘alive’ by enabling oxygen rich blood to flow round their body via the chest compressions mimicking the heart’s ‘push’.
A heart attack on the other hand is a condition where the blood supply to the heart muscle itself is compromised. This leads to the heart tissue being starved of oxygen and can lead to tissue death.
The pain from a heart attack arises directly from the starved tissue, and although arising in the centre or left side of the chest, can radiate to the neck and left arm.
A heart attack does not usually result in loss of consciousness. The patient is still breathing and has a pulse (the majority of the heart is able to function and pump blood around the body).
Occasionally a heart attack can lead to a patient not breathing or without a pulse (a cardiac arrest) and in this case CPR is necessary.
With modern medicine most people survive a heart attack and recover completely. The same unfortunately isn’t true for someone who suffers a cardiac arrest, though numbers of survivors are growing with increased public familiarity with CPR, quick response times by ambulances and health care professionals as well as public access defibrillators.
Want to learn CPR? Visit out free online first aid course module: how to perform Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation