Sudden Cardiac Arrest And Heart Attack: What's The Difference?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest And Heart Attack: What's The Difference?

Is There A Difference Between Sudden Cardiac Arrest And A Heart Attack?

Is there a difference between sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and a heart attack? Yes! SCA and a heart attack are two different - though often interchanged - conditions with potential fatal consequences if not treated appropriately.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the stopping of the heart. This may happen very quickly over a matter of seconds and usually occurs out of the blue (unexpected) with no apparent cause. SCA can be fatal if not treated within minutes with CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), an automated external defibrillator (AED) and/or emergency medical treatment. A heart attack, on the other hand, commonly refers to myocardial infarction (MI). MI refers to death of heart muscle due to lack of blood supply and oxygen (ischemia), this can be caused due to a blockage in an artery.

In summation, sudden cardiac arrest is a condition when the heart suddenly stops beating, causing unconsciousness, and breathing and circulation to stop. A heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked, limiting blood supply to a section of the heart and it begins to suffer cell death.


What Comes First, A Heart Attack Or Cardiac Arrest?

Acute myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac arrest are two different medical events. While a heart attack occurs in the presence of stable angina, resulting in death of a part of the heart muscle and other problems, sudden cardiac arrest is an unexpected cardiac arrest, usually caused by an underlying heart problem. SCA is a disruption of the heart’s natural rhythm and can also be caused by the following:

  • Cardiomyopathy;

  • Congenital heart disease;

  • Heart valve disease; and

  • Acute myocarditis. 

Doctors used to think that cardiac arrest was the same thing as heart attack and while having a heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest during the attack or after recovery, they have been found to have different causes and manifestations, and both phenomena are now recognized as separate medical events.


How Serious Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency, it's life-threatening and requires immediate medical treatment. By the time symptoms are recognized it can already be too late. Timing is key to successful recovery from cardiac arrest. The quicker your loved one gets to the emergency room, or is treated with an AED the more likely he or she will survive.

When sudden cardiac arrest strikes, the faster a defibrillator can be used to restart the heart, the better. As a result, it's crucial that everyone understands how to recognize such a life-threatening emergency, and what can be done to help save someone's life. Trust your intuition, call 911 if you or a loved one experiences symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest and get help as quickly as possible.


Heart Attack Vs Cardiac Arrest - The Takeaway

Whether it's a heart attack or SCA, a rapid response is essential. The key takeaway from this blog is that there is a difference between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest but thankfully if you have access to an AED in an emergency you won’t have to guess. After the placement of electrode pads on the victim's chest, a defibrillator will assess the heart rhythm and ONLY give a shock if it is needed. In other words, an AED will only administer treatment if the person it is being used on is suffering from cardiac arrest. When in doubt, use an AED.

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