What is the difference between a heart attack and a sudden cardiac arrest?

What is the difference between a heart attack and a sudden cardiac arrest?
May 31 07:06 2021 by admin Print This Article

A lot of people use the terms ‘heart attack’ and ‘sudden cardiac arrest’ interchangeably. But this is not correct. They are two different conditions.

Understanding a Heart Attack 

  • There is a heart attack when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart is reduced because of a blockage in the artery/arteries of the heart.
  • As a result, the part of the heart that has supply from the damaged artery does not get enough blood.
  • If untreated, that part of the heart will suffer damage.
  • When the blood flow to the part stops completely, it results in a heart attack.
  • Treatment involves opening up the blocked artery so that blood can reach all parts of the heart again.
  • Quick treatment is vital as delay will result in permanent damage to the affected portion of the heart.
  • The severity of damage also depends on the artery that is blocked. If the artery supplies to major portions of the heart, then the damage will also be more.
  • Thus, a heart attack is a problem with blood circulation.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack 

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack so that treatment can be availed quickly. Do not brush aside symptoms. When in doubt it is always better to consult a doctor. While sometimes a heart attack may be sudden and intense, most of the time it develops over time starting with mild pain. The symptoms experienced may include the following:

  • A feeling of discomfort in the middle of the chest: This feeling may be fleeting, or it may be felt for a few minutes.
  • Arm pain, neck pain, back pain, stomach pain, and jaw pain.
  • Breathlessness may accompany chest discomfort or may present on its own.
  • Sweating, feeling of nausea, and dizziness are the other symptoms to be on the look-out for.

Treatment for a Heart Attack 

  • Treatment options will vary depending on how damaged the heart is.
  • The doctor may suggest anything from medications to stent placement and bypass surgery. It varies as per the severity of the attack.
  • Your doctor will also suggest a few lifestyle changes that will have to be followed.
  • Weight loss, healthy eating, regular exercise, etc. will all go a long way in preventing future attacks.

Reducing the Risk Factors 

Men over 45 years of age and women over 55 years of age have an increased risk of heart attack. People suffering from autoimmune diseases and those with a family history of heart attack are more at risk. These are risk factors we cannot control. But there are some factors that are well within our control. Focus on the following to reduce your risk:

  • Keep blood pressure under control.
  • Do not smoke. Passive smokers too are at risk.
  • Keep a check on cholesterol levels.
  • Obesity is a big risk factor. Even a loss in body weight by 10% will reduce the risk.
  • Diabetics are at an increased risk. Keep blood sugar levels under control.
  • If your family consists of a history of early heart attacks, your risk increases too.
  • Exercising regularly keeps the heart in good condition.
  • Avoid using stimulants; they can cause a contraction in the arteries and result in a heart attack.

Understanding a Cardiac Arrest

  • In a sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating all of a sudden.
  • Here, there is a problem with the electrical impulses that the heart generates.
  • This leads to an arrhythmia where the heartbeat loses its steady rhythm.
  • The heart can either beat too fast or too slow.
  • When the heart does not perform its pumping action efficiently, blood flow to the organs is disrupted.
  • The person becomes unconscious immediately, and the condition can prove fatal if not treated immediately.

Cardiac Arrest – Signs  

  • A person collapses suddenly.
  • He/she doesn’t have a pulse.
  • The person doesn’t seem to be breathing.

If the person does show early symptoms, they may include the following:

  • Uneasy feeling in the chest
  • Breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Palpitations

In several cases, there are no symptoms, and the cardiac arrest is sudden.

Risk Factors for a Cardiac Arrest

  • Hypertension
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Being obese
  • Smoking
  • Bad lifestyle habits
  • Long-term kidney problems
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Having suffered a heart attack previously
  • History of cardiac arrest in the family

A cardiac arrest can also be attributed to pre-existing heart conditions. Some of these conditions are listed below:

  • Coronary Artery Disease: This is a partial or complete block in the arteries of the heart because of the fat deposition in the arteries.
  • Heart Attack: This is a possible cause of cardiac arrest. A heart attack damages the heart muscles, and as a result, the passage of electrical impulses in the heart is hindered.
  • Cardiomyopathy: The heart finds it difficult to pump blood efficiently to all the body parts.
  • Heart Valve Disease: As the name implies, this is a problem with one or more valves of the heart.
  • Congenital Heart Disease: Sometimes, children may be born with a heart problem. There always exists a chance of sudden cardiac arrest in people with congenital heart disease.
  • Long QT Syndrome: This presents as an extended QT duration in an electrocardiogram and hence the name. People with this syndrome suffer an uneven heartbeat.

Treating Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Immediate treatment is crucial for survival.

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR should be started without delay. During CPR, the chest is compressed manually by the resuscitator, and rescue breathing is done. This procedure may well make the difference between the patient surviving until professionals arrive or until the patient reaches the hospital.
  • Defibrillation: Here, an electrical impulse is given externally to the heart, which stops its abnormal rhythm and restores normalcy. Defibrillation is done for ventricular fibrillation.
  • At the hospital, stabilizing the patient will be the priority. Once that is done, depending on the cause, treatment may vary from medication to surgery.

Both cardiac arrest and heart attack have almost the same preventive measures that need to be followed to reduce the risk. Do not wait for an attack to happen to make lifestyle modifications. Make the changes today for a happier tomorrow.

This article is available in audio format, click “Play” button to listen.

Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.

Chennai – 044 4000 6000 • Trichy – Cantonment – 0431 4077777 • Trichy – Heartcity – 0431 4003500 • Trichy – Tennur – 0431 4022555 • Hosur – 04344 272727 • Salem – 0427 2677777 • Bengaluru – 080 6801 6801

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  1. Parthiban
    June 04, 05:24 #1 Parthiban

    Thanks for this informative article. Got to know the difference between a heart attack and a sudden cardiac arrest, about which I was always confused.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Karthiga
    June 29, 11:53 #2 Karthiga

    Knowing this difference might be life saving for people with risks!!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Mahendhran
    December 20, 14:27 #3 Mahendhran

    These two conditions are often mistaken for each other. Thanks for sharing the information.

    Reply to this comment

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