“Serious as a heart attack,” is a common phrase that signifies the severity of a topic. But cardiac arrest is different from and more serious than a heart attack.
“A heart attack usually doesn’t result in a cardiac arrest,” said Marshfield Clinic cardiologist Dr. Humberto Vidaillet. “A heart attack occurs when there’s a portion of the heart muscle that’s not being supplied with enough oxygenated blood to maintain its function.”
By contrast, a cardiac arrest happens when a person’s heart rate or blood pressure is extremely high or low, to the point the person loses consciousness. A heart attack is caused by an issue with circulation, like a blocked artery. Cardiac arrests result from electrical problems in the heart.
Confusion about the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack can be problematic, especially when patients are giving their provider family history.
If a patient tells me his dad had a heart attack, when in fact it was a cardiac arrest, my approach to their care may be very different,” Vidaillet said. “If you have a close relative who’s had a heart attack, you may have increased risk for coronary artery disease. However, if the relative had a cardiac arrest, it could have been due to myriad other conditions, which may have nothing to do with coronary artery blockages.”
Warning signs and symptoms
“A heart attack usually manifests with symptoms like chest pain, back or arm discomfort, shortness of breath, sweating or intense fatigue,” Vidaillet said.
On the other hand, cardiac arrest may occur quickly and without warning signs. The most common cause for a cardiac arrest is a problem with the functioning of the lower chambers of the heart.
The use of CPR followed by a defibrillator to jump start the heart are both critical, live-saving measures when someone experiences a cardiac arrest.
Cardiac arrest and heart attack are linked
According to American Heart Association, “Heart attacks increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Most heart attacks do not lead to sudden cardiac arrest. But when sudden cardiac arrest occurs, heart attack is a common cause.”
Heart failure is a separate condition
Different from heart attack or cardiac arrest, heart failure is generally a more drawn out condition, managed over time. Heart failure is a chronic disease in which the heart doesn’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
“Heart failure is a serious condition, and usually there’s no cure. But many people with heart failure lead a full, enjoyable life when the condition is managed with heart failure medications and healthy lifestyle changes,” according to American Heart Association.
Vidaillet said some forms of heart failure may increase risk for cardiac arrest.
“Devices such as implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are effective treatments in those individuals,” Vidaillet said.
ICDs are used to remedy irregular heartbeats.
If you’re concerned with your heart health, contact your primary care provider.