Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest the Same as a Heart Attack?
The terms “sudden cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” are commonly used in a synonymous way, especially in the media. They are not, however, the same thing.
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood and the victim immediately loses consciousness. This is usually caused by an electrical problem with the heart that results in no blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body. Problems with the heart’s electrical system can cause the heart to go into an abnormal rhythm called an arrhythmia.
Sudden cardiac arrest is most commonly caused by an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation. In ventricular fibrillation, the heart’s lower chambers – the ventricles – do not beat normally and sort of quiver instead. If not treated, a person who has gone into ventricular fibrillation will die within a few minutes.
The term “heart attack” refers to damage of the heart muscle. This usually occurs from a lack of blood flow to the heart – commonly from a blockage of one or more of the arteries that supply the heart with blood. So, essentially, a heart attack is a problem with the plumbing of the heart. When the heart muscle gets starved of blood, parts of it begin to die causing chest pain and other symptoms. Unlike sudden cardiac arrest, however, a heart attack victim usually remains conscious.
If someone has a heart attack, cardiac arrest may occur as a result of the heart attack if help is not given immediately. If someone collapses suddenly and is not breathing on their own, that person is probably in cardiac arrest and needs immediate CPR followed as soon as possible by a shock from a defibrillator. The defibrillator will hopefully shock the victim’s heart back into a normal rhythm again.
About the Author
Michael Kiernan is a middle-aged guy whose life pleasures have included his local watering hole, the typical western diet, a somewhat sedentary lifestyle, and impulsive trips to Baskin-Robbins. On October 16, 2009, Michael survived sudden cardiac arrest while riding on a NYC subway train. He was clinically dead for about 25 minutes. This event triggered Michael''s new ambition to live a more healthy life. You can follow Michael''s journey by tuning in to his "Healthy Heart Guy" blog.
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