Medical terms have always been confusing and are used interchangeably by common people. But, describing a health condition in wrong terms can often create a confusion leading to a miscommunication. And one such classic example is the use of terms related to cardiovascular diseases or simply heart diseases. Quite a number of people get confused and think that Heart attack and Cardiac arrest are same and are just synonyms. But, it’s not true. As Heart attack refers to insult of heart due to sudden stoppage or decreased blood flow to the heart, on the other hand, a cardiac arrest refers to stoppage of the heart beat and function. If heart attack is a “plumbing problem”, then cardiac arrest is an “electrical problem”. However, a detailed understanding of both the terms will help us to know the difference.
What is a Heart Attack?
The heart is a type of muscle made up of cardiac muscles, and like any other muscle, even heart requires a continuous oxygen-rich blood supply which is provided by the coronary arteries. When the coronary arteries develop blockages [Coronary artery disease], the flow of blood to the heart is either disturbed or stopped. If such blockages are not quickly resolved then it can cause the heart muscle to die eventually. Sometimes piece of fatty material breaks off and cause formation of blood clot at the site of blockage. This suddenly cuts off or reduced blood supply to heart muscle. This specific clinical condition refers as Heart attack or acute coronary syndrome or myocardial infarction(MI). The symptoms may vary from person to person. Important symptoms to identify a heart attack includes:
● Shortness of breath
● Feeling or being sick
● Light-headedness or dizziness
● And rarely cardiac arrest
Causes of a Heart attack:
Most heart attacks are due to Coronary Artery Disease. There are various reasons that increases the risk of heart attack, which include:
● Unhealthy diet especially a diet with high saturated fat
● Overweight or obesity
● Sedentary lifestyle
● Age factor
What is a Cardiac arrest?
A Cardiac arrest is an emergency when heart stops pumping blood. Therefore, all vital organs, brain lungs and kidneys are deprived of blood during this time. There is no time to lose. This condition if not intervened immediately always result in death. The symptoms to identify cardiac arrest, include:
● Sudden loss of consciousness/responsiveness
● No breathing
● No pulse
Causes of Cardiac arrest:
● Ventricular tachycardia, Fibrillation (VF)
● Coronary heart disease
● Congenital heart disease
● Heart valve disease
● Cardiac arrhythmias
● Pacemaker failure
● Respiratory arrest
● Dramatic drop in blood pressure
● Excessive blood loss
● Drug abuse
● Excessive alcohol consumption
What links Heart attack and Cardiac arrest?
A sudden cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack, or during the recovery period. Heart attacks increases the risk of cardiac arrest. Most of the heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest. But when cardiac arrest occurs, a heart attack is a common cause. Both Heart attack and Cardiac arrest are life threatening medical emergency and require immediate attention and management.
Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart diseases. But, if you or your beloved one are experiencing the symptoms of heart attack then never ignore them, seek for a medical emergency right away. Don’t wait because every second counts. Consult a cardiologist at the earliest. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Khulbey
MBBS; MS (General Surgery); MCh
Cardiothoracic & Vascular Surgeon
Apollo Health City Jubilee Hills
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