What Is Cardiac Arrest–And How Is It Different From a Heart Attack?

One is a circulation problem while the other is an electrical issue.

The terms "cardiac arrest" and "heart attack" are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two distinct conditions. Understanding cardiac arrest and heart attacks could make all the difference when it comes to helping someone experiencing such an event. In this video, we explain everything you need to know about telling the two apart, plus what to do if you or someone nearby is having a heart attack or going into cardiac arrest.

The most straightforward way to distinguish between these two heart conditions is to remember that a heart attack is a circulation problem while cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. If someone is having a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is physically blocked by a clogged or narrowed artery. The longer the heart attack goes on, the worse the damage is. That's because as your heart muscle is starved of blood and oxygen, parts of the tissue start to die. In cardiac arrest, however, there is no blockage of blood flow. An electrical malfunction causes the heart to stop beating altogether, which means blood isn't flowing anywhere in the body.

The two conditions also have vastly different symptoms. People in cardiac arrest lose consciousness and don't have a pulse. Yes, that is just as serious as it sounds: Cardiac arrest can be fatal in minutes. Heart attacks don't make you faint or stop your pulse–instead, they're more likely to produce chest, arm, or jaw pain; shortness of breath; cold sweats; as well as nausea or overall sluggishness and fatigue, especially among women. While heart attacks can also be deadly, the symptoms can start hours, days, or even weeks before a full-blown attack, giving you time to seek emergency medical attention.

If you see someone in cardiac arrest or having a heart attack, call 911. Watch the video above to learn how to help a person immediately while you wait for emergency responders to arrive.

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