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Understanding The Difference Between A Cardiac Arrest And A Heart Attack

The terms cardiac arrest and heart attack are often heard in news reports and from doctors. They might say that some famous personality has died of a heart attack or that a loved one has died from cardiac arrest. And while these terms are used interchangeably, it is important to note that they are not the same. Let us further distinguish the difference of these two terms below.

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Heart attack – What is it?

Known as myocardial infarction, heart attack happens when an artery becomes blocked, resulting in a limited blood flow supply to the heart. This blockage is usually caused by a plaque and over time, the heart muscle (which is affected by the blockage) eventually dies. Regular check-up is necessary to avoid the long-term effects of heart attacks, because the longer a victim delays treatment, the more severe the damages can be. Symptoms of heart attack include persistent chest pain – hours, days or weeks depending on the severity of the condition.

Cardiac arrest – What is it?

Cardiac arrest happens because of a cardiac condition known as ventricular fibrillation. This ventricular fibrillation causes irregular beating of the heart known as cardiac arrhythmia. Because the pumping function is compromised, the heart cannot properly pump blood to the important body organs, including the brain and lungs. The victim can usually be seen unresponsive and should be treated immediately. Prompt CPR can help facilitate circulation to the victim’s non-functioning heart. Defibrillator, or the use of electrical shock, can reorganize the heart’s function to make it beat again. Take note that cardiac arrest is one of the common causes of death, and the only first aid necessary for cardiac arrest is to call emergency services and perform manual CPR as help arrives. Afterwards, automatic external defibrillator should be started as soon as possible.

Heart Attack versus Cardiac Arrest – Difference and Link

  • In a heart attack, the heart does not stop from pumping blood even if there is persistent pain, unlike in a cardiac arrest where there is totally no pumping function.
  • Heart attacks, when properly managed, would not lead to cardiac arrest. However, cardiac arrest is commonly caused by prolonged heart attacks.

Be Prepared No Matter What

If you suspect that someone is having heart attack or cardiac arrest, it is necessary to call emergency services right away, especially if you are unsure of what the victim experiences. Always remember that quick actions can save someone’s life. To know more about our first aid and CPR courses, check the site for additional information.

Related Video:


“Heart Attack vs. Cardiac Arrest.” Retrieved online on August 13, 2014 from

“Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest.” American Heart Association. Retrieved online on August 13, 2014 from

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