Most people assume that a heart attack and cardiac arrest are two names for the same thing. It’s a common misconception, but a heart attack and cardiac arrest are two entirely different conditions. Knowing the difference is important, and knowing how to properly react to both of them is essential.  

So, What’s The Difference?

A heart attack is when the heart is suddenly deprived of oxygen, usually due to a blockage of plaque in the coronary arteries. Cardiac arrest is when the heart’s electrical system suddenly malfunctions. In other words, the heart unexpectedly stops working properly.   

Heart Attack Symptoms & Signs

Heart attacks are generally caused by heart disease such as coronary heart disease or arrhythmia. They can either happen gradually or suddenly. Before experiencing a heart attack, a person may show warning signs. According to the American Heart Association, these signs can include:

  • Chest pressure, squeezing, fullness, pain, or general discomfort, lasting for a few minutes. The pain can come and go, fading in and out
  • Discomfort in parts of the upper body, including in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

Women can experience warning signs of a heart attack with or without chest pains. Because many women do not know this, they often assume signs of a heart attack are caused by another non-threatening issue. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the U.S, so it is important to know the warning signs women can experience. These include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Upper back pressure  
  • Extreme fatigue

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain
  • Discomfort from activity
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Palpitations, or the feeling of the heart beating rapidly

If you or someone near you starts to experience these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately and seek medical attention.

Cardiac Arrest Symptoms

Cardiac arrest can occur without prior warning. According to the American Heart Association, signs of cardiac arrest are:

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness
  • No response to tapping on shoulders
  • Does nothing when you ask if he/she is OK

People can experience cardiac arrest with or without a heart disease. They happen suddenly, and can be lethal if not treated as soon as possible.   

If this happens to someone near you, it is extremely important that you:

  • Call for help (9-1-1, an emergency response number, etc.)
  • Check if the person is breathing
  • Perform hands-only CPR if the person is not breathing or is only gasping. (Check out how to give hands-only CPR here)
  • Keep performing hands-only CPR until the person begins to breath or until the paramedics or someone with advanced training takes over

To learn more about heart attacks and cardiac arrest, visit . Here for heart attacks and here for cardiac arrest.


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