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Sudden Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack

October 8, 2020

People often confuse heart attacks with sudden cardiac arrest. Although they can have similar results (death), they are generated by two very different processes. Let’s take a look at the characteristics and causes of sudden cardiac arrest vs heart attack.

What Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

According to researchers with the American Heart Association, Sudden Cardiac Arrest stops the flow of blood through the heart to the brain and other vital organs of the body. It can happen at any age for several reasons. There might be an electric problem, also known as an arrhythmia. There might be a blocked artery of the heart (eg, a heart attack). A drug overdose may also cause cardiac arrest.

The person becomes unresponsive and is only gasping for air.

If sudden cardiac arrest occurs outside of a hospital, there’s only an 11% chance of survival. But it can be reversible if someone gets treatment within the first few minutes.

Acute treatment options include:

  • Use of an automated external defibrillator
  • CPR

If you see someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, call 911 right away.

Over the past decade, survival from cardiac arrest has improved. Like surviving stroke or cancer, it often requires medications and treatments after discharge. It may also create new challenges with physical function, memory, speech or depression. Recovery can take months to years after the event.

Who’s Most At-Risk For Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Although anyone can be a victim, one of the most recent studies found an association between multiple sclerosis and sudden cardiac death.

Investigators found patients with multiple sclerosis have a five-fold higher incidence of sudden cardiac arrest over the general population in the United States. While the reasons for this finding are still being investigated, the brain has established links with heart function and could be influencing the electrical function of the heart.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack happens when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked and the heart can't get oxygen. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the part of the heart that is being nourished by that artery begins to die.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort: It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain
  • Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular pulse
  • Dizziness

Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, you should call for help right away. The longer you wait means more damage will be done.

How To Protect Yourself

In summary, a heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when your heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. A heart attack is a “circulation” problem and sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem.

NOH-DrLanger-SocialPost-2-(Screen for Heart Disease)

October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month. It's an initiative by the Heart Rhythm Society to raise awareness for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and to help you become more familiar with what it is, how it affects people, and what can be done to help save lives. There are many events and activities that you can try to become more familiar with the difference between sudden cardiac arrest vs heart attack.

Another way to ensure your heart is as healthy as it can be is by getting it checked regularly. There are several non-invasive tests your doctor can perform that will tell you a lot about your heart. Our guide “Cardiology Tests That Are Helping Hearts Stay Healthy” will explain. Inside you’ll find tests you can have done right away that can even tell you your risk for heart attack within the next 10 years.

How to tell if you'll have a heart attack