Heart attack and cardiac arrest sound synonymous and people often tend to use these terms interchangeably, but they are not synonyms. A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked, and sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. Whereas a heart attack is a “circulation” problem and sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem.

Everyone strives to live their lives to the fullest, and the healthiest, but one cannot deny the sheer transience of it.  We never know at what moment We’ll draw our final breath. We keep our precautions from all the diseases or medical conditions that could end up being lethal to us.

Both disorders arise from problems with the heart but each with distinct risk factors, treatment options and outcomes. A heart attack is a “circulation” problem and sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem. How many people know the difference between the two?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is among the most common causes of death throughout the world. It is estimated that more than 3 million people die annually from SCA, with a survival rate of less than 1%. In fact, SCA claims one life every two minutes, taking more lives each year than breast cancer, lung cancer, and even AIDS.

SCA is a life-threatening condition wherein the heart’s electrical system is affected. During SCA, the heart stops beating and no blood is pumped in to the body. This could be compared to losing electricity in your house. The heart “electricity” must be turned back on, typically through electrical shock. Sudden cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack.

Heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction (MI) occurs when there is a blockage in one or more of the arteries to the heart, preventing oxygen-rich blood supply to some part of heart muscle. Heart attacks most often occur as a result of coronary artery disease (CAD) which is a result of plaque buildup in the arteries, which blocks blood flow and heightens the risk for heart attack. However, a heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical disturbance that leads to sudden cardiac arrest.

While both cause serious problems and possible death, SCA often occurs abruptly and without warning. In fact, two-thirds of SCA deaths occur without any prior indications of heart disease, while heart attacks often have previous signs and symptoms.

Risk Factors

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

  • Previous heart attack – 75% of SCA cases are linked to a previous heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Family history – genetic reasons put even younger population at risk
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Cardiac Failure

Heart Attack

  • Age – People who are 65-years-old or older
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Smoking
  • High serum cholesterol
  • Family history of coronary disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stress and obesity

Sudden cardiac arrest symptoms are immediate and drastic which include sudden collapse, no pulse, no breathing and loss of consciousness. Heart attack symptoms aren’t always obvious, but they can be severe. One may experience a number of symptoms, like discomfort in the left side of chest/upper abdomen, shortness of breath from any type of exertion, cold sweat, vomiting/nausea.

Keep the heart healthy

Few lifestyle changes can go a long way in keeping your heart healthy; here is how.
•    Control your portion size while eating; don’t overload your plate
•    Include more veggies & fruits in your diet
•    Opt for whole grains in your meal as they are good source of fiber & nutrients
•    Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol
•    Choose low-fat protein sources
•    Reduce intake of sodium in your diet
A heart attack patient should be rushed to the hospital within an hour and required treatment should be delivered. A case of cardiac arrest is however more grave and fatal. Sudden cardiac arrest requires immediate action for survival. The most effective way to treat sudden cardiac arrest is defibrillation. The American Heart Association recommends defibrillation within 3 to 5 minutes of arrest, or sooner, for sudden cardiac arrests occurring outside the hospital.

 What to do if someone experiences a heart attack or cardiac arrest

Start hands-only chest compressions:

  • Put one hand over the other, and place both on the person’s breastbone, in the middle of his or her chest.
  • Press hard enough to make the chest move inward about an inch.
  • Relax, and repeat. Do this about 100 times a minute.

Keep doing CPR until someone arrives with an AED — either a bystander who has obtained one from a nearby business or building, or a first responder.  Mouth-to-mouth breathing isn’t necessary if you are doing CPR on someone you saw go into cardiac arrest. That’s because the individual’s blood has enough stored oxygen to keep him or her going for a while. Swift action  can save a life.