What's the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest?
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The main difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest is that the former is an issue with circulation, while the latter is an electrical problem; there’s more to it too. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked. This can lead to symptoms such as chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away, said the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
In addition, the pain might travel from the chest area to the neck, jaw, back or stomach.
It’s not unusual for someone having a heart attack to feel sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath.
Meanwhile, a cardiac arrest “is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly”, explained the American Heart Association.
A person suffering from a cardiac arrest will lose consciousness and have no pulse – death is imminent if rapid treatment isn’t administered.
Dr Tim Cripps, a consultant cardiologist, explained how a heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest further down the line.
One health complication from a heart attack is developing “ventricular tachycardia”.
This is when “faulty electrical signals in your ventricles (the lower chambers of your heart) cause your heart to beat faster than normal”.
Although the heart may be beating in excess of 100 times per minute, “it’s not pumping blood efficiently”.
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One symptom of ventricular tachycardia is a “fluttering feeling in the chest”.
Some people may describe this sensation as a “thumping” , and it’s otherwise known as heart “palpitations”.
Other signs of ventricular tachycardia include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling sick
- Sweating a lot
- Feeling light-headed or passing out
“If you just have brief episodes of ventricular tachycardia that stop on their own, you may not get any symptoms at all,” warned Dr Cripps.
Dr Cripps advises anyone who feels these symptoms mildly to inform their GP.
“If the symptoms are severe and come on suddenly, you should go to your nearest accident and emergency department,” he urged.
This is because “it can be fatal, causing sudden cardiac death”.
“Ventricular tachycardia can sometimes lead to another type of arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation,” he elaborated.
“This is when electrical signals fire off in different areas of your ventricles at the same time and cause an extremely fast, life-threatening heart rhythm.
“It results in your heart being unable to beat properly which means little or no blood is pumped out,” he continued.
This is what can precede a sudden cardiac death, but if a person correctly administers a defibrillator and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a life can be saved.
The BHF offer training on how to use a defibrillator and how to do life-saving CPR.
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