What’s the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?

September 24, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

With heart disease the leading cause of death in the United States, you’ve likely heard the terms “cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” used to describe a cardiac event.

But what is the difference between the two?

In the simplest of terms, a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem affecting the heart muscle’s electrical system and a heart attack is a circulation problem effecting the flow of blood in the heart.

Cardiac arrest often occurs without warning and is triggered by an electrical issue prompting an irregular heartbeat and causing the heart to stop beating. With the heart stopped, other vital organs cannot receive blood. Cardiac arrests can be fatal within minutes if treatment, including the use of an AED or CPR, is not immediately administered.

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked, often times by plaque that ruptures in the artery. If the blockage is not fixed quickly, the part of the heart not receiving blood begins to die.

The longer a person goes without blood to the heart the greater the damage. But, unlike a sudden cardiac arrest, the heart does not stop beating in a heart attack.

Though the two affect different parts of the heart, there are some links. Heart attacks also increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Though most heart attacks do not always lead to cardiac arrest, in instances where cardiac arrest does occur, heart attack is often the cause.

In both cases, quick action also helps save lives. It’s important to know the symptoms and what steps to take.

Heart attack symptoms often include shortness of breath, pain in the chest or arm, nausea or vomiting, light-headedness or fatigue. Cardiac arrest happens suddenly and often involves a loss of responsiveness.

If you believe someone is having a cardiac arrest or heart attack, the first step is to call 911 immediately.

In the event of a cardiac arrest, begin CPR or use an AED to help get the heart beating again.

The American Heart Association suggests performing hands-only CPR to the beat of Saturday Night Fever’s “Stayin’ Alive” can help double or triple the victim’s chance of survival.

You can depend on the Cardiac Innovations & Structural Heart Center® team at the Heart Hospital of Edward-Elmhurst Health to effectively treat your heart condition with a number of minimally invasive options.

Know your risk for heart disease. Take a free, 5-minute test that could save your life.

Related blogs:

5 things you need to know about heart attacks

How to know when chest pain signals a heart attack

Heart attack signs in women

Poison Ivy

Itching like crazy? How to treat a rash

It’s almost inevitable that time spent outdoors in the summer will result in someone coming home with a rash.

Read More


7 ways to make this your summer of fitness

As the days lengthen and sunshine becomes a staple, it’s easy to let your fitness routine slip away.

Read More


5 things women should do to stay healthy

Ladies, it's time to make your health a priority. Get 5 easy tips to stay healthy.

Read More