Heart Attack vs Cardiac Arrest: When to Give CPR?
Cardiac arrest might sound like a fancy way of saying heart attack, but they’re actually two different things. And if you encounter someone with heart troubles, it’s helpful to know the difference. Think of it this way: a heart attack is a circulation problem, with blocked blood flow to the heart, while cardiac arrest is an electrical problem, where the heart stops beating because there’s a heart malfunction. Sometimes the malfunction is due to an irregular heartbeat, which stops the heart from pumping. But, of course, there’s more to the differences between a heart attack vs cardiac arrest than that.
Why does it make a difference to know which it is?
It’s important to understand the difference between the two because you recognize and treat each of these heart problems in a unique way. If you are certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or you’ve watched medical shows on television, you may know about the automated external defibrillator (AED), the device that checks the heart rhythm and can shock the heart if needed. The AED is only used on people experiencing a cardiac arrest. Those trained in using it place the sensors on the person’s chest and the machine then signals if the person is experiencing an electrical problem, so the user doesn’t give a shock unnecessarily.
How can you tell if it’s a cardiac arrest vs a heart attack?
According to the American Heart Association, a cardiac arrest happens suddenly and without warning. On the other hand, symptoms are often present right before a heart attack, possibly even for days. They may include shortness of breath, chest or upper body discomfort, back or jaw pain, nausea, vomiting or cold sweats. The person may not recognize these symptoms as heart-related, though, since they can easily be mistaken for other problems. Another key difference: the heart doesn’t always stop beating during a heart attack when the blockage is preventing blood from getting to or from the heart.
What’s the difference in treating a heart attack vs cardiac arrest?
In both cases, it’s important to call for emergency help immediately and to administer CPR if needed. However, those experiencing cardiac arrest must be treated within minutes, or they can die. When the heart stops beating and breathing ceases, the organs don’t get the needed oxygen. A person having a heart attack doesn’t need CPR if their heart is still beating, and has more time to get treatment before there’s irreversible damage.
The American Heart Association says the link between these serious heart issues is that most heart attacks don’t result in cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest can occur from a blockage, but it can also be from other issues like arrhythmias, which are irregular or abnormal heartbeats. Even if you haven’t taken a formal CPR class, the American Heart Association offers a short video that shows how to do hands-only CPR, which may save someone’s life while emergency help is summoned.
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About the Author:
Deborah Abrams Kaplan writes about health and medical topics for universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and medical websites. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle, Woman's Day, Continental Airlines Magazine, Shape, and many more!
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