Heart Attack vs Cardiac Arrest | Symptoms & What to Do | Heart2Heart

People always have questions relating to heart attack vs cardiac arrest. Many people often use these terms interchangeably, which causes many people to wonder what the difference is between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. Although they are linked, there are distinct differences between the two. Read on to find out more.

What is a Heart Attack?

The heart muscle gets its blood supply from the coronary arteries. A heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarction) occurs when the blood flow to one or more of these coronary arteries is blocked. When this blockage occurs, it means that a section of the heart is deprived of oxygen-rich blood. 

This can happen over time due to a blood clot or a gradual build up of plaque in the arteries. The heart usually keeps beating, but it may beat abnormally. Therefore, many people experiencing a heart attack will still have a pulse.

heart attack vs cardiac arrest

The symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Crushing chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or faint feeling
  • Sweating

Symptoms can slightly differ in women. Women may also experience:

  • Neck, jaw or upper back pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Indigestion

Symptoms can occur over minutes and can last hours, even days. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and call an ambulance (999 or 112) as soon as possible. Blood flow needs to be restored to the heart as soon as possible, because if the blocked artery is not opened in time, the part of the heart that is supplied by that artery begins to die.


What is a cardiac arrest?

Electrical impulses move across the heart, which causes a co-ordinated contraction of the heart. This contraction allows the heart to beat and pump blood through the arteries to the tissues.  An abnormality in this electrical conduction is called a cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly due to an arrhythmia.

As a result, the heart cannot pump blood around the body. Cardiac arrest happens suddenly – a person in cardiac arrest will be unresponsive and will usually stop breathing (or may be gasping). It is important that a person in cardiac arrest gets CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and defibrillation as soon as possible.

cardiac arrest vs heart attack

What to do if you think you are going into cardiac arrest

  • Get an AED (automated external defibrillator) if there is one nearby, or send someone to get it for you if you can. This stops the heart in the hope that the heart can restart its own normal rhythm.
  • Start chest compressions straight away and do not stop until help arrives. 
  • Use AED when it arrives.
  • Only stop CPR to use the AED.
  • Start CPR again after AED use.

In summary of heart attack vs cardiac arrest, a heart attack is a circulation problem, whereas a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. Not many heart attacks lead to cardiac arrest. But the two events are still linked because when cardiac arrests do happen, heart attack is a common cause. 

Heart Attack vs Cardiac Arrest: Call For Help

It is important to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and call an ambulance or present to A&E as soon as possible. Regardless of whether it is a heart attack or cardiac arrest, you should call for help immediately (999 or 112). If you do not know CPR, consider getting certified in Basic Life Support – it could save a life.


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